Empowering Parents To Protect Their Children Online

Published on May 30, 2024, 1:27 pm
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From cradle to college, parenting is not easy. That is even more true in the digital world, considering how intertwined social media has become in connecting with friends and family. Any parent can tell you there are risks related to allowing unfettered access to social media for children – but social media platforms like TikTok, Reddit, Instagram, Discord, and others, offer more than an opportunity to like or share a post. There are tools kids and teens use to access educational content, connect with peers, and foster supportive communities. Being the parent of a teen means ensuring your child has age-appropriate online experiences in their digital activities. Unfortunately, as the national conversation on regulating social media intensifies, some policymakers are missing the point.

In New York, proposed legislation known as the SAFE Act and the Child Data Protection Act mean well, but they make it tough for parents who just want their kids to have a safe, fun online experience. In theory, these bills are designed to let parents set screen time limits and manage in-app notifications. However, they will inevitably require parents to verify each user’s age – which means providing sensitive data – and monitor the content on individual social media platforms. Both pieces of legislation would require parental consent for teenagers from different social media platforms, which can be a real headache for parents.

To add to the confusion and inconsistency with these regulations, the two bills have different age verification policies. For example, the SAFE Act mandates that platforms utilize “commercially reasonable methods” to verify users ages and requires parental consent for minors to access algorithm-driven feeds – a move that is purposefully vague and open to interpretation by the New York Attorney General. This ambiguity could lead to stringent measures that infringe on privacy and complicate the user experience, requiring companies to maintain extensive data on all users.

The SAFE Act attempts to regulate how a social media feed populates by eliminating the “algorithm” – but algorithms power the internet. They deliver relevant content to users, including educational materials and support networks. Preventing engagement with algorithm-powered feeds would isolate some users or harm vulnerable communities dependent on content being pushed their way. Even more, regulating these algorithms on an app-by-app basis forces parents to navigate a confusing maze of regulations, making it overly complicated for kids to use social media to connect, socialize, and learn.

These provisions may be well-meaning, but they make it harder for parents to effectively participate in their children’s online interactions – forcing them to navigate complex and varying policies across different apps and making digital parenting more burdensome. While these laws aim to ensure kids enjoy age-appropriate content on social media, there needs to be a system that simplifies parental involvement rather than complicating it.

A more practical and effective solution would be for federal legislation requiring parental consent at the app-store level for kids and teens’ app downloads. This would get at what I believe is the intent of the two pieces of legislation in New York – make it simple, secure, and easy for parents to ensure their children have age-appropriate experiences online.

At face value, the intent behind these pieces of legislation is commendable. Pursuing regulation on age-appropriate experiences online for minors is a crucial responsibility. However, the methods and implications of these bills raise significant concerns about feasibility, parental consent, and the broader unintended impact on young users. The question is not whether we should create age-appropriate experiences online but whether this approach is the best way to achieve that.

By Shaya Been


About Shaya Been

Shaya Been is an author and a community organizer in the Bronx, where she is active with the Center for Justice Innovation and Save Our Streets.

Jonas Bronck is the pseudonym under which we publish and manage the content and operations of The Bronx Daily.™ | Bronx.com - the largest daily news publication in the borough of "the" Bronx with over 1.5 million annual readers. Publishing under the alias Jonas Bronck is our humble way of paying tribute to the person, whose name lives on in the name of our beloved borough.