It’s hard these days to get senators to agree to much, but it appears they’re unifying behind a proposal to keep more youngsters off social media.

The bipartisan Protecting Kids on Social Media Act, introduced by a group of senators last week, would prohibit children 12 and younger from creating accounts on social media platforms and bar tech companies from deliberately targeting any underage users.

U.S. Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent, is one of those pushing the new measure.

“America’s youth should be protected from the harmful impacts of social media and from traumatic online content during their most formative years,” he said in a news release.

He said the law “would establish reasonable guardrails and set a minimum age for users of social media to protect our children from tech companies exploiting and manipulating the youngest Americans.”

“Our children and grandchildren deserve to grow up without the damaging risks of social media and this legislation will take meaningful steps to protecting our youth from these impacts,” King said.


Not everyone agrees with the bill’s approach.

Katharina Kopp, deputy director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said in a prepared statement that “kids and teens should not be locked out of our digital worlds, but be allowed online where they can be safe and develop in age-appropriate ways.”

She warned that one of the unintended consequences of this bill “will likely be a two-tiered online system, where poor and otherwise disadvantaged parents and their children will be excluded from digital worlds.”

“What we need are policies that hold social media companies truly accountable, so all young people can thrive,” Kopp said.

But proponents said their bill is a necessity.

The senators endorsing the measure, including Republican Ted Cruz of Texas and Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut, cited statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that they said indicates the nation “is facing a mental health crisis and no group is affected more than adolescents, and especially young girls.”


The centers’ most recent behavioral survey found 57% of high school girls and 29% of high school boys felt persistently sad or hopeless — and 22% of all high school students reporting said they had seriously considered attempting suicide in the preceding year. The senators also cited evidence that social media use is contributing to youth mental health issues.

“As a parent of two kids, one a teenager and one about to be a teenager, I see firsthand the damage that social media companies, 100% committed to addicting our children to their screens, are doing to our society,” Murphy said in a prepared statement.

“This is a reality that we don’t have to accept,” he said. “The alarm bells about social media’s devastating impact on kids have been sounding for a long time, and yet time and time again, these companies have proven they care more about profit than preventing the well-documented harm they cause.”

“In particular,” Murphy said, “these algorithms are sending many down dangerous online rabbit holes, with little chance for parents to know what their kids are seeing online.”

Josh Golin, executive director of Fairplay, disagreed, saying in a prepared statement that “young people deserve secure online spaces where they can safely and autonomously socialize, connect with peers, learn and explore. But the Protecting Kids on Social Media Act does not get us any closer to a safer internet for kids and teens.”

“Instead, if this legislation passes, parents will face the same exact conundrum they face today: Do they allow their kids to use social media and be exposed to serious online harms, or do they isolate their children from their peers?” Golin asked.


Fairplay and several other advocacy groups for children said the measure “places too many new burdens on parents and creates unrealistic bans and institutes potentially harmful parental control over minors’ access to social media.”

For instance, they said, “requiring parental consent before a teen can use a social media platform, vulnerable minors, including LGBTQ+ kids and kids who live in unsupportive households, may be cut off from access to needed resources and community.”

Senators supporting the bill have a different take.

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, said in a prepared statement that “setting an age limit of 13 — and requiring parental consent until age 18 — our bill will put parents back in control of what their kids experience online.”

“From bullying and sex trafficking to addiction and explicit content, social media companies subject children and teens to a wide variety of content that can hurt them, emotionally and physically,” Cotton said. “Just as parents safeguard their kids from threats in the real world, they need the opportunity to protect their children online.”

Another senator, Alabama Republican Katie Britt, said in a prepared statement, “As a mom, nothing is more important to me than preserving the next generation’s opportunity to live the American Dream. Unfortunately, that dream is turning into a nightmare for families across our country.”

“This bill is a bold, critical step to protect our kids, secure their future and empower parents,” Britt said.

“The only beneficiaries of the status quo are social media companies’ bottom lines and the foreign adversaries cheering them on,” she said, adding that she looks forward to working with Senate colleagues “to enact the commonsense, age-appropriate solutions needed to tackle this generational challenge.”

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.