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Column: NYS Lawmakers enact protection from addictive social media.  

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“It is heartening that the tide is turning away from pure profit motive, toward health, sanity and safety”

by Frederick Sinclair

Both branches of the New York State Legislature and the Governor,  just last week, adopted laws which are intended to combat addictive social media feeds and protect children when online. The New York Child Data Protection Act prohibits online sites from “collecting, using, sharing or otherwise processing any personal data of individuals under the age of 18 without informed consent.”  A written binding agreement is also required regarding disclosure of data of minors to third parties. The Stop Addictive Feeds Exploitation (SAFE) for Kids Act requires social media companies torestrict addictive feeds on their platforms for users under 18 years old. Without parental consent they will simply be denied access. Social media notifications posted , regarding addictive feeds,  are also prohibited from 12:00 am to 6:00 am unless parental consent is granted. The upcoming rulemaking process will authorize the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to impose civil penalties of up to $5,000 per violation and seek other related remedies. The establishment of eligible age verification and parental consent  methods, will be established by the OAG during rulemaking for implementation of the laws.

NYS Attorney General Letitia James has stated “ Our children are enduring a mental health crisis, and social media is fueling the fire and profiting from the epidemic.”  The Senate’s Internet and Technology Committee was created to focus on these issues and support youth in achieving healthier social media usage. “ Together we will  continue to take all necessary actions to protect the mental well-being of our children.” said  New York State  Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

Social media ‘push back’ is being based on the legislation violating the First Amendment rights of Free Speech. However, the US Surgeon General issued an advisory last year that found nearly 95% of youth ages 13 – 17 use some type of online social media and more than a third of those children say they do so “almost constantly.”   Common Sense Media, ( www.commonsensemedia.org ) is a nonprofit advocacy organization that focuses on improving online experiences for families, schools and children. Their spokesperson James P. Steyer published an article last year in which he stated “addictive feeds have had an increasingly devastating effect on children and teens, contribution to significantly higher rates of youth depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and self harm.”  Other influential organizations such as the School Boards Association, New York State United Teachers Union, multiple urban leagues, Mothers against Media Addiction and the United Federation of Teachers, are all in support of the NYS legislation, but past experience shows that merely passing  laws and enforcing regulations is not always enough to fully address and resolve solidly entrenched problems.

It is heartening that the tide is turning away from pure profit motive, toward health, sanity and safety. An informed public, organizations, NYS lawmakers, the telecommunications  industry and several related  foundations have finally realized the levels of addiction and mental illness our entire society is being subjected to.  The issues have slowly come to a boil, over the past decade. Hundreds of reports, studies, videos, and activist groups  shone a light on the harsh realities of  social media addiction. The  NYS Legislature,  State Attorney General  and Governor, in a rare instance of consensus,  have  responded to public concern, recognizing  the importance of addressing  social media addiction in our children, and taking the first steps confronting it in law.  However, it is imperative that each of us individually, within our families and as the voice of reason in our communities, intervene, to insure our children are effectively protected from this assault on their wellbeing and mental health.

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