Press Release

Rep. Castor, Bicameral Colleagues Reintroduce Legislation to Protect Children and Teens From Online Manipulation and Harm

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Washington, September 30, 2021 | comments

Today, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (FL14), Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), along with Reps. Jennifer Wexton (VA10), Lori Trahan (MA03) and Yvette Clarke (NY09) reintroduced the Kids Internet Design and Safety (KIDS) Act, legislation to stop online practices such as manipulative marketing, amplification of harmful content, and damaging design features, which threaten young people online.

“Research has made it clear that our increasingly online world is unsafe for children, with popular apps pushing kids to spend unhealthy amounts of time on their devices and negatively affecting the mental health of teens. It’s past time to take action. I’m proud to reintroduce the KIDS Act with my House and Senate colleagues to implement safeguards to protect our children online and hold Big Tech and manipulative marketers accountable for their dangerous actions. Let’s get this bill over the finish line and provide our kids the 21st century online protections they deserve,” said Rep. Castor.

“The handful of powerful online platforms where kids and teens spend most of their online time are inherently harmful to them,” said Senator Markey, co-author of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). “Big Tech continues to blatantly prioritize raking in revenue over protecting children and teens, and that must stop. We know that these companies won’t change their ways unless Congress forces them to. That’s why I am proud to re-introduce the Kids Internet Design and Safety Act. I thank my partners in the Senate and House of Representatives for their continued leadership on this important issue and will work to get this legislation passed.”

"Our kids are spending more and more time in front of their screens, which means more time being bombarded by inappropriate ads and uncensored content," said Rep. Jennifer Wexton. "Big tech companies have an incentive to get more views, more clicks, and more revenue, and right now there are minimal guardrails to protect children from that manipulative business model. As founder of the Congressional Task Force on Digital Citizenship, I'm proud to join Rep. Castor in introducing the KIDS Act to establish common sense regulations on these online platforms and keep kids safe."

“It’s clearer than ever that online protections for children have lagged behind the rapid expansion of the Internet and withered under the dominance of social media platforms,” said Rep. Trahan. “It’s long past time for Washington to catch up and do what companies like Facebook have proven unwilling to – protect our kids. I’m proud to partner with Congresswomen Castor, Wexton, and Clarke, as well as Senators Markey and Blumenthal to reintroduce the KIDS Act. This legislation will finally deliver the safeguards and reassurance that children and their parents should be able to expect when they log on.”

"The tech industry continuously makes it clear profit is always preferable over people, and tragically, children are no exception. These unscrupulous marketers have targeted online spaces to exploit kids and teens and to cultivate their addiction to the platforms. Enough is Enough,” said Rep. Clarke. “The internet should serve as a resource for children to learn and grow and form communities — not as a deliverable for whatever toxic substance, new product, or disturbing content Silicon Valley boardrooms deem relevant. As long as Big tech does not prioritize the safety of our children, the KIDS Act will remain a necessary means to an end.

“Online platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok have repeatedly prioritized profits over children’s safety. By cracking down on harmful content and manipulative marketing, this legislation will stop proliferating the bad practices of these tech giants. They pose a serious threat – immediate and long term – to young users. As Chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, I’m proud to cosponsor this legislation to protect our children and hold these apps accountable,” said Senator Blumenthal.

A copy of the legislation can be found HERE.

The KIDS Act creates new protections for online users under 16 by:

Damaging Design Features:

  • Banning “auto-play” settings that lead to prolonged and unhealthy viewing sessions on websites and apps for kids and young teens. 
  • Banning push alerts that encourage kids and young teens to pull out their devices and increase screen-time.
  • Banning badges that reward kids and young teens for increasing their time spent on an app or website.
  • Banning interface features, such as “like” buttons and follower counts, that quantify levels of popularity for children and teens

Amplification of Harmful Content:

  • Prohibiting websites for kids and teens from amplifying violent, inappropriate, and dangerous content.
  • Requiring websites to implement mechanisms for users to report instances in which the websites recommend harmful content to kids and young teens.

Manipulative Marketing:

  • Prohibiting websites from recommending content that includes host-selling, or influencer marketing, such as “unboxing videos” to children and young teens. 
  • Prohibiting websites from recommending content that involves nicotine, tobacco, or alcohol to children and young teens. 
  • Prohibiting websites from exposing children and young teens to marketing with imbedded interactive elements.

 

Digital media and popular social media platforms are increasingly embedded in young people’s lives. Research shows that children under the age of 8 consume digital media for almost two and a half hours a day, on average; over two-thirds of 5- to 8-year-olds have their own tablet or smartphone, and three-in-ten parents of children aged 9 to 11 report their children use TikTok. While kids are increasingly living their lives online, new reports have highlighted the variety of threats to young people online, including algorithms that serve dangerous and inappropriate content to young users, the damaging mental health effects of influencer content, and platform designs that keep kids on social media platforms for lengthy periods of time.

In April, Representatives Castor and Trahan and Senators Markey and Blumenthal wrote to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg regarding Facebook’s announcement that the company is “exploring” plans to develop a version of Instagram for. In May, after the company failed to make meaningful commitments to protect kids online, the lawmakers released a statement calling on Facebook to abandon its plans for the children’s platform. Earlier this month, following reports Facebook has conducted and reviewed research showing a connection between Instagram and mental health problems among young users, Representatives Castor and Trahan and Senator Markey wrote to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, demanding answers and renewing their call for Facebook to abandon its plans to develop an Instagram for kids platform. Facebook has since announced its intention to “pause” its plans to develop this app.   

Endorsers of the KIDS Act include: Common Sense Media, Center for Digital Democracy, Fairplay, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

“Common Sense is deeply grateful to Sen. Markey and Rep. Castor for their continued commitment to prioritizing kids' digital well-being. Online platforms should support kids and families, not exploit them for profit," said James P. Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense. “The KIDS Act would help to protect young people from addictive and manipulative design, platform features designed to make kids feel bad about themselves, inappropriate commercial exhortations, and other unhealthy online content that is increasingly pushed on kids, such as violence and self-harm.”

"This landmark legislation is an important step towards creating the online environment that children deserve," said Josh Golin, Executive Director, Fairplay. "Far too often, platforms are designed for monetization at the expense of young people's wellbeing. The KIDS Act will provide critical safeguards so that children using online and mobile platforms to learn and connect won't be exposed to unfair influencer marketing or manipulative design designed to extract their family's money and keep them online far longer than is good for them. We applaud Senator Markey and Representative Castor for the ongoing commitment to protect young people from the Internet's harmful business model." 

“This groundbreaking bill will provide young people with the 21st Century safeguards they urgently need today,” said Katharina Kopp, Ph.D., Deputy Director, Center for Digital Democracy. “Children and teens are being subjected to an unprecedented array of harmful digital marketing practices that undermine their health, privacy, security, and development.   Unaccountable and sophisticated commercial data-driven interactive applications are designed to manipulate their emotions and behaviors.  Youth of color and low-income communities are particularly vulnerable to this onslaught of exploitive practices. The “Kids Act” will ensure that young people will grow up in a world where they are no longer held captive by these unaccountable outside forces.” 

“Children’s needs are too often an afterthought in technology development,” said Jenny Radesky, MD, FAAP, chair-elect of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media.  “Apps, video-sharing sites, and platforms popular with children are filled with manipulative, commercialized, and engagement-prolonging design. The KIDS Act would help make digital design more ethical - more centered around children’s unique way of interacting with the digital world – and limit the ways these technology platforms are able to keep children on their platforms longer than is healthy. The KIDS Act would also finally introduce algorithmic accountability – making sure the recommendations feeds that shape so much of kids’ media use are not elevating harmful content. The American Academy of Pediatrics thanks Senator Markey for his leadership introducing this important bill.” 

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