New York Governor Signs Bill Restricting Social Media Algorithms for Minors

Bill Pan
By Bill Pan
June 20, 2024New York
New York Governor Signs Bill Restricting Social Media Algorithms for Minors
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signs a bill in New York on June 20, 2024. Hochul signed a bill that would allow parents to block their children from getting social media posts suggested by a platform's algorithm, a move to limit feeds critics argue are addictive. (Office of the New York Governor via AP)

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul on June 20 signed into law a pair of bills aimed at curbing “addictive” social media use among children and teenagers across the state.

The Democrat governor, who has been advocating for the first-in-the-nation measures since October 2023, highlighted the role algorithm-driven social media feeds are playing in the rise of mental health problems among young New Yorkers.

“Young people across the nation are facing a mental health crisis fueled by addictive social media feeds—and New York is leading the way with a new model for addressing the crisis and protecting our kids,” Ms. Hochul said in a statement announcing her final approval.

“By reining in addictive feeds and shielding kids’ personal data, we’ll provide a safer digital environment, give parents more peace of mind, and create a brighter future for young people across New York.”

The first bill, dubbed the Stop Addictive Feeds Exploitation for Kids Act, makes it illegal to use algorithm-generated feeds for social media accounts belonging to users under 18 without parental consent. That means young users will only be shown a chronological feed of content from accounts they already follow unless their parents say otherwise.

Under the new law, social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram must develop methods to determine a user’s age without having to rely on a government-issued ID. New York Attorney General Letitia James would be tasked with determining how the user age and parental consent verification should work, but the system must be “commercially reasonable and technically feasible,” according to the legislation.

The bill also prohibits social media apps from sending notifications to young users during late-night and early-morning hours without their parents’ permission. This in practice allows parents to turn off their child’s social media notifications between midnight and 6 a.m.

The original version of the bill mandated that social media companies provide parents with tools to limit the hours their children could spend on those apps. Those provisions have been removed from the final draft.

A second bill, known as the New York Child Protection Act, prohibits online sites from collecting, sharing, or selling the personal data of minors unless they receive informed consent or unless doing so is “strictly necessary” for the purpose of the website.

Companies that violate any of the two laws will face fines of $5,000 for every breach. Parents of the affected child will be able to seek $5,000 in damages from the social media platform per incident.

Potential Legal Challenge

The milestone laws, approved by state lawmakers in Albany earlier in June with the support of Ms. Hochul’s administration, are almost certain to trigger legal pushback from the social media industry.

Ms. James, who worked with lawmakers to craft and advance the legislative package, indicated that she expects attempts to block its enforcement.

“As we move forward with the rulemaking process, my office will work tirelessly to defend these new laws to protect New York children,” Ms. James said on Thursday.

The Chamber of Progress, an industry group that includes tech giants such as Google, Meta, and X, said the New York laws face a “likely constitutional challenge” on at least First Amendment grounds.

“The bill dictates what speech platforms can and cannot show users, so it’s going to face a constitutional minefield,” Adam Kovacevich, the chief executive of Chamber of Progress a former Google executive, said in a statement.

The tech industry trade group NetChoice, whose members include Meta and X, similarly condemned New York’s algorithm restriction as an unconstitutional “censorship” of online content.

“This is an assault on free speech and the open internet by the State of New York,” said Carl Szabo, NetChoice’s vice president and professor of internet law at the George Mason University, in the organization’s statement. “New York has created a way for the government to track what sites people visit and their online activity by forcing websites to censor all content unless visitors provide an ID to verify their age.”

“The law will also increase children’s exposure to harmful content by requiring websites to order feeds chronologically, prioritizing recent posts about sensitive topics,” he said.

The professor further took issue with the state government mandating data collection on social media users, saying that it will put New Yorkers’ privacy at risk.

“If someone reads something the Governor doesn’t approve of, the state will know,” Mr. Szabo noted.

From The Epoch Times