‘Addictive’ social media feeds are a target for New York politicians.

According to legislation put forth on Wednesday, New York would limit how online services like Instagram and YouTube can gather and share the personal information of children while allowing parents to prevent their children from being inundated with “addictive” feeds from accounts they don’t follow.

According to Attorney General Letitia James, the state lawmakers’ bills are intended to shield children from features that encourage endless scrolling, endangering their mental development and health.

Using addictive features to keep minors on their platforms longer, social media companies are largely to blame for the record-high levels of anxiety and depression that young people in New York are experiencing, according to James.

“This legislation will help address the dangers that social media poses to our kids while also preserving their right to privacy.

“. James and Gov. Kathy Hochul, both Democrats, are similar to regulations already in place in Europe, where transgressions could result in fines worth a percentage of revenue, which could amount to billions of dollars for wealthy tech companies.

The Stop Addictive Feeds Exploitation (SAFE) for Kids Act is one of the bills that would give parents the option to prevent their children from receiving feeds that have been algorithmically curated.

Instead, they would receive a chronological feed of posts from users they already follow.

Algorithms are the automated systems that social media platforms use to keep users engaged by suggesting content based on the groups, friends, topics, and headlines a user has previously clicked on.

Some of Kathleen Spence’s middle school students arrive at class barely awake after spending the previous night engrossed in the social media content their smartphones had teed up.

But what inspired her to speak out in favor of the legislation was her own daughter’s eating disorder and near-suicide.

Spence attributes her now-21-year-old daughter’s past mental health struggles to the thousands of inappropriate posts and images that peppered her social media feed after she made her first account at age 11 with an interest in Webkinz plush toys.

“I don’t want even one more family to experience what my daughter and our family had gone through,” Spence said.

The legislation also would let users block access to social media platforms from midnight to 6 a.m. and limit the hours a child spends on a site.

The second bill, the New York Child Data Protection Act, would prohibit all online sites from collecting, using, sharing, or selling personal data of anyone under 18 years old, unless they receive informed consent or it’s otherwise necessary.

California-based Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, said parental supervision tools and other measures already are in place to ensure teens have age-appropriate experiences online, adding that algorithms also are used to filter out harmful content.

“We refer to research, feedback from parents, teens, experts, and academics to inform our approach,” Antigone Davis, Meta’s head of global safety, said in a statement, “and we’ll continue evaluating proposed legislation and working with policymakers on developing simple, easy solutions for parents on these important industrywide issues.”

Companies could be fined $5,000 per violation of either law.

Under new digital rules that came into force this year across the 27-nation European Union, platforms have to give users an alternative to automated systems that recommend videos and posts based on their profiles. Thus Meta, for example, now also allows European users to see chronological Facebook and Instagram posts only from people they follow.

The rules, known as the Digital Services Act, also prohibit platforms from using children’s data and online activity to target them with personalized ads.

Another set of rules, the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, provide beefed-up data safeguards and rights for EU residents. Regulators slapped TikTok with a $366 million fine last month for breaching GDPR by failing to protect children’s privacy.

The legislation in New York also follows actions taken by other U.S. states this year to curb social media use among children. In March, Utah became the first state to pass laws that require minors to get parental consent before using social media. The laws also compel companies to verify the ages of all their Utah users, impose a digital curfew for people under 18 and ban ads from being promoted to minors. But experts have noted the new rules, which are set to take effect next year, could be difficult to enforce.

Meanwhile, another state law in Arkansas that would have also required parental consent for children to create social media accounts was put on hold by a federal judge in August.

The New York proposals drew swift opposition from a tech industry trade group, which urged the state to consider an alternative approach to what it termed an “unconstitutional, wasteful effort.”

“It’s unfortunate for New Yorkers that the state is stripping parents of their right to raise their children as they deem appropriate, all while ignoring the simple steps of working with schools and community leaders to educate students and adults how to use social media in a safe and responsible manner,” said Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel for NetChoice, whose members include Meta and TikTok.

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