State Senators Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Protect Mental Health of Minors on Social Media

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PENNSYLVANIA — On Friday, State Senator Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) and State Senator Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York) introduced bipartisan legislation that takes important steps to protect minors and their mental health on social media.

With more minors than ever before struggling with their mental health, research indicates that social media is a contributing factor in this rise. As such, these two senators are working across the aisle to address the significant and severe effects social media has on the mental wellbeing of young people. The proposed legislation seeks to create safe spaces for youth online and ensure that interactions on social media platforms do not harm their mental health. By aiming to provide a healthier online environment for minors, this bill represents a vital step towards safeguarding their long-term mental wellbeing.

“Our current law for teen social media use is outdated and inadequate,” said Senator Hughes, referring to the Federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA), which only requires parental consent to establish a social media profile for children under age 13. “We know the impact social media is having on young people and the drastic changes to how young people use social media since COPPA became law. We must act now to protect our children.”

“I am proud to work on this legislation with Sen. Hughes to better safeguard and protect the data of our children and put parents in the driver’s seat over their children’s well-being,” Phillips-Hill said. “The Senate has made protecting our online assets and cybersecurity a priority with bipartisan support, and this legislation continues that important work.”

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The proposed legislation is based off bills in other states, including Connecticut and Ohio, as well as the Clean Slate for Kids Online Act introduced in the US Senate.

Senators Hughes and Phillips-Hill’s social media protections bill would do the following:

  • Require consent from a parent or legal guardian for anyone under 16 to open a social media account
  • Notify parents or legal guardians if a child under 16 opens a social media account without proper consent
  • Prohibit data mining for any user under 18
  • Allow individuals to request deletion of information collected or obtained while the individual was under 18
  • Create a cause of action for parents or legal guardians of minors against social media companies for harm to their children.

According to data collected by Pew in 2022, YouTube stands out as the most widely-used video-sharing platform among teenagers with a whopping 95% of teens reporting its usage. In comparison, 67% of teens claimed they have used the popular short-form video app, TikTok, at least once.

However, a 2018 study conducted by Pew found that social media comes at a cost: nearly half of the teenagers surveyed (45%) reported feeling overwhelmed by the drama on social media platforms. Furthermore, 26% of teens reported feeling worse about their own lives due to their social media usage.

The situation has taken a dramatic turn with one in six high school students reporting being electronically bullied in the year 2021 as per a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report. Alarming figures also show that from 2011-2021, almost 60% of female students experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness while 10% of female students reported attempting suicide. Raising awareness about responsible and healthy use of social media platforms has become the need of the hour.

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