Wednesday, January 3rd, 2024

Very Anti-Social Media

A new law could make social media more accountable

By Leslie Klosterman
Photo by Paige Sutter/The Daily Standard

Ohio youths under 16 will soon need parental consent to create social media accounts.

A new law requiring parental consent for kids under 16 to create new accounts on social media platforms is set to take effect on Jan. 15.

The Social Media Parental Notification Act was approved last year as part of the state's biennial operating budget.

Under the law, social media companies must obtain a parent's or guardian's permission for children to sign up for social media and gaming apps or face civil penalties.

The law specifically names YouTube, Facebook, TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram, but other social media and online gaming/activity companies also must comply with the law. It does not include e-commerce and online shopping.

In addition, the law includes a requirement for companies to provide parents with their privacy guidelines to show them what will be censored or moderated content on their child's profile.

"It is a fact that tech companies are targeting children with addictive algorithms on social media, and it is negatively affecting their physical and mental health," said Lt. Governor Husted, who spearheaded the legislation. "This new law gives parents a greater say in if, how and when their children use these platforms."

The law comes after a 17-year-old Ohio teen took his own life in 2022 after he was a victim of sextortion, an online crime that happens when an adult poses as a same-aged peer to convince a victim to share sexual pictures or perform sexual acts on camera.

Companies subject to the regulations would have to produce methods to determine if a user is under 16 and send written confirmation to parents to verify their consent is legitimate. If parents do not sign off on the companies' terms of service, the company must deny access or use by the child. The restrictions would apply only to new account creation.

Social media companies also would have to create an introductory screen known as a "splash page" for age verification. If the user indicates they're under 16, a parent could verify consent by signing a digital form, providing government identification, connecting with "trained personnel" over video chat, using a credit or debit card or other online payment system, or calling a toll-free number.

If a court finds a company violates the law, the Ohio Attorney General can investigate and take legal action. However, the law gives operators the chance to correct the violation first.

Companies found to be breaking the law could be fined $1,000 per day. After 60 days, the daily fine increases to $5,000, and after 90 days the fine goes up to $10,000. Revenues from the fines go into the AG's consumer protection services.

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued an advisory on social media and youth mental health in May 2023, sounding the alarm and stating there are ample indicators that social media can pose a risk to the mental health and well-being of kids and adolescents.

The advisory stated that social media use by young people is nearly universal, with up to 95% of young people ages 13-17 reporting using a social media platform and more than a third saying they use social media "almost constantly."

Research has shown that adolescents who spend more than three hours per day on social media face double the risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes, such as symptoms of depression and anxiety; yet one 2021 survey of teenagers found that, on average, they spend 3.5 hours a day on social media, according to the advisory.

Social media may also perpetuate body dissatisfaction, eating disorders, social comparison and low self-esteem, especially among adolescent girls. One-third or more of girls aged 11-15 say they feel "addicted" to certain social media platforms and over half of teenagers report that it would be hard to give up social media.

When asked about the impact of social media on their body image, 46% of adolescents aged 13-17 said social media makes them feel worse, 40% said it makes them feel neither better nor worse, and only 14% said it makes them feel better.

Studies have also shown a relationship between social media use and poor sleep quality, reduced sleep duration, sleep difficulties and depression among youth.

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"With the recent statement from the U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy declaring youth mental health as the defining public health issue of our time and urging policymakers to help ensure strong safety standards to help protect adolescents from exposure to social media's harmful content and excessive use, Governor (Mike) DeWine and Lt. Governor Husted took action," said Frances Gerbig, executive director of the Prevention Action Alliance in July 2023. "The establishment of the Social Media Parental Notification Act is a win for Ohio's children and families and will serve as the catalyst for conversations regarding social media best practices for children and youth."

- The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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