Mini media

New legislative proposals aim to restrict social media use for teens
Illustration by Addyson Leathers
Illustration by Addyson Leathers

Through the tiny screens on teenagers’ phones, friends are made, memories are preserved, ideas are shared and hours are spent inside the single most important device of a generation. The relationship between teenagers and their phones is complex, to say the least.
On one hand, social media is the driving factor in their social lives, as well as a timely source of entertainment for teens, making it a vital tool in their everyday lives. On the other hand, studies in the last five years have consistently pointed to phones being a major contributor to a concerning teen mental health crisis, according to National Public Radio.
The government’s response to the social media concern has picked up in recent years. The social media hearings in the U.S. senate last month were pivotal, bringing a national spotlight to children and social media. Oddly enough, Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg publicly apologized for the damage social media has had on children.
The CEO of one of the largest social media companies admitting to his own products’ dangers paints the picture of how out-of-control social media has become.
A handful of states including Texas, Arkansas and Utah have begun to push social media restrictions on teens, requiring parental consent for minors to create accounts. Florida’s solution to social media was found within Florida House Bill 1, which was filed in January and attempts to restrict access for teens under the age of 16. However, on March 1 Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed the bill, stating that lawmakers should amend it further to protect children while promoting parental rights.
The bill, approved by the state Senate, would have forced age verification to be required on social media sites to stop underage accounts. It was a step in the right direction, protecting children from being swallowed by the monster of social media sites, but it was far from a solution. Despite revisions to the bill, further modifications to the bill are necessary to support the wellbeing of teenagers.
The vagueness of the bill made it ineffective for cracking down on apps, requiring age verification but not requiring the legitimacy of the verification.
There is undoubtedly an issue with the role of social media in teenagers’ lives. According to the Cleveland Health Clinic, 46 percent of teens aged 13 to 17, especially girls, said social media lowers their self-esteem and damages their mental health. To solve this, the bill aimed to ban social media accounts owned by users under the age of 16 by requiring users to verify their ages. But how companies could implement this remained vague. Even after recent revisions to the bill, targeting the vague sections, there was still no definite standard for age verification. Without specifics, there would be loopholes for tech companies.
A more viable response would be to require age confirmation documentation. The bill could provide social media applications with a series of methods to choose from, such as ID or document scanning. These methods are already common for some applications, and some companies even offer biometric face scanning to determine someone’s age. Age verification is by no means a new concept, and without a strict method of verification, what would stop teens from faking their ages?
In the bill’s recent revisions, the term social media was defined more clearly. In the bill’s classification of what constitutes social media and what was restricted by the bill, a list of addictive features was defined. The bill mentioned “infinite scrolling with continuous loading content, or content that loads as the user scrolls down the page,” “auto-play video or video that begins to play without the user first clicking, and “algorithms that analyze user data or information.” Instead of directly addressing these and the negative consequences, it simply used them to define social media. According to Stanford University, such features reward users with addictive stimuli, making it difficult to stop the habit of checking social media for notifications. The bill had the opportunity to prevent these features from damaging teens and fight against growing dangerous presence of social media. Why not make companies remove them? This would result in teens still being able to use social media to promote their social lives without having to worry about developing harmful habits or receiving negative feedback loops tied to their phones.
Teens spend on average three hours a day on social media, according to the “New York Times.” That’s 1,095 hours a year. This bill and other social media-restrictive measures are coming at a time when social media restrictions are overdue. Currently, the best thing people can do to mitigate the damages of social media is to change their relationship with the platforms. This could look like parents setting their own restrictions or teens realizing these effects and stopping themselves from developing possibly dangerous habits. The moderation of how teens access social media was a step in the right direction, stopping exposure to these addictive features and negative effects early on. But it didn’t address the problem as a whole. The bill appeared to be a reaction to the slew of anti-social media statistics rather than a reasonable and well-thought-out fix to how social media intersects with our daily lives.