CT lawmakers propose parental consent for social media accounts

CT lawmakers propose parental consent for social media accounts

Connecticut lawmakers are trying again this year to pass legislation that would require social media companies to get parental consent before allowing anyone 16 or younger to use their platforms.

The bill, HB 5025, is an effort to support children’s mental health, sponsors said, and follows promises from lawmakers to focus on youth mental health this session.

The first version of this bill was introduced during the 2022 legislative session by Rep. Christie Carpino, R-Cromwell. It died despite receiving unanimous support from the Children’s Committee.

Unlike last session, the bill now goes to the General Judiciary Committee. Sen. James Maroney, D-Milford, the co-chairman of the General Judiciary Committee, said children’s issues should be a priority for everyone.

“I think it’s a bipartisan issue in terms of everybody wanting to protect our kids and make sure we protect their privacy,” he said.

Maroney said that while there are positive aspects to social media, young people have also felt its negative effects.

“We also know that we’ve seen the adverse effects on the mental health of our students,” Maroney said. “While we can’t necessarily say social media caused it [mental health issues]there is a strong correlation between the rise of social media and the increase in anxiety among our students.”

Rep. Tami Zawistowski, R-East Granby, is sponsoring the legislation this session.

“People are trying to live up to unrealistic expectations set by social media,” Zawistowski said, adding that she believes social media can have a negative impact on young people’s body image, which can lead to serious health issues such as eating disorders.

Zawistowski said parents can support the legislation because they have seen firsthand during the pandemic lockdowns how social media negatively affects their children.

“I think there’s a lot more focus on mental health this session, and there has been for a while,” she said. “I think so [bill] get right in line with that.”

There has been an increase in both the number of young people who have mental health problems and the severity of those problems over the last few years.

However, there is already opposition to the legislation.

NetChoice, a coalition representing numerous social media platforms and supporting free, unrestricted use of the Internet, intends to fight the proposal.

“What this legislation essentially purports to do is hand over parenting of teenagers to the tech industry, and plaintiffs’ lawyers, rather than letting parents decide what’s best for their own children,” said Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel at NetChoice. “At the same time, it will actually require the collection of the most sensitive and personal information about teenagers whenever they go around and access the Internet.”

NetChoice sued California over legislation protecting children’s online privacy that passed last year. The law puts more restrictions on big tech companies to make sure they take proper steps to ensure children see age-appropriate ads and other online services.

Szabo said the California law does not take into account that children mature at different ages. It can get complicated when big tech has to define what content is “age appropriate” for kids. He also said the legislation was an infringement on the First Amendment.

He said Connecticut must first “empower students and parents” by teaching them how to use social media safely, protect their privacy online and be good digital citizens.

“Any parent, myself included, who thinks that their teen is not more tech-savvy than they are, is deluding themselves,” Szabo said. “That is essentially what this legislation is trying to do. It tries to ignore the reality that there are a lot of 12-year-olds on social media, even though it’s against the terms of service and the contracts.”

Future of Privacy Forum Youth and Education Privacy Policy Advocate Bailey Sanchez has read numerous pieces of legislation regarding children’s online privacy and has seen many bills similar to HB 5025 proposed in other states.

For example, Utah lawmakers have proposed legislation requiring all minors to obtain parental consent before joining any social media platform.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said he supports the bill because of the negative effects social media has on children, comparing social media companies to opioid makers last month.

Sanchez said Utah lawmakers have defined social media in a very broad way, potentially barring children from using educational software.

“The way they defined social media could be interpreted as a learning management system, like Canvas or Blackboard, which could potentially be contained in this definition,” Sanchez said. “They defined it as a tool to communicate with a sufficient number of users.”

In Texas, lawmakers have proposed a bill that would ban all social media platforms for minors. The bill also requires someone signing up for an account to show a photo ID.

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