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Ken Cocker
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A landmark New York bill would restrict social media for children. Heres what to know.

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(NEW YORK) — New York state is weighing landmark legislation that would prevent tech platforms like Instagram and TikTok from using algorithms for social media feeds viewed by children.

The measure would require social media companies to present posts to children in the order they’re issued by followed accounts, eliminating the role of algorithms that shape the stream of content.

Democratic New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, who backs the bill, is near an agreement with the legislature for passage, according to a source familiar with the negotiations.

The bill has drawn opposition from some advocacy and industry groups, including TechNet, a trade organization that represents companies such as Google, Snap, Meta, Amazon and Apple. TechNet did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

Supporters of the measure fault social media algorithms for addicting young users and harming their mental health. Opponents, on the other hand, say the legislation could worsen content feeds by limiting tools that filter harmful speech and risks infringing on the First Amendment.

Here’s what to know about the proposed social media regulation:

What would the measure do?
The proposed legislation would restrict the use of algorithms for social media accounts that belong to individuals under the age of 18.

The removal of algorithm-fueled feeds would reduce the addictiveness of the apps and ease the harm inflicted upon minors, proponents say.

The bill would also disallow social media apps from sending notifications to minors during late night and early morning hours without parental consent.

At a press event in Albany, New York last week, Hochul accused the social media companies of “bombarding young people with these absolutely addictive algorithms.”

A Senate version of the bill claims that minors are uniquely vulnerable to the addictive quality of social media platforms.

“Children are particularly susceptible to addictive feeds because they provide a non-stop drip of dopamine with each new piece of media and because children are less capable of exercising the impulse control necessary to mitigate these negative effects,” the measure says.

The call for bolstered online protections for children gained momentum in the aftermath of revelations in 2021 from then-Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, who released internal research showing that the company understood the danger that Facebook-owned Instagram posed for some teen girls.

Last year, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy warned in a new advisory that excessive social media can pose a “profound risk” to the mental health of children.

Who are the supporters and opponents of the bill?
The measure is backed by Hochul, New York Attorney General Letitia James and a bipartisan group of New York state legislators.

A set of advocacy groups and teachers unions also supports the measure, including the United Federation of Teachers, Mothers Against Media Addiction and the New York Urban League.

The bill, along with another that protects children’s data privacy, offers New York legislators “the ripe occasion to take meaningful action at a pivotal time in history,” the group of nonprofits said in a statement in April.

On the opposing side, a coalition of trade and activist groups warn of unintended consequences and the difficulty of verifying the age of app users.

Chamber of Progress, a tech industry organization that receives support from dozens of firms such as Meta, Apple and Amazon, warned that the algorithm and data privacy measures could ultimately worsen social media feeds for children.

“Instead of giving teenagers a healthier online experience, New York’s bills could prevent platforms from ensuring age-appropriate feeds for teens,” Chamber of Progress says on its website. “It could mean that whoever posts most recently goes to the top of a teen’s feed — even if that post is spam, hate speech, or other harmful content.”

The New York Inclusive Internet Coalition, a group that says it represents members of marginalized groups in New York, has also criticized the measure as a threat to the community offered by social media platforms.

“We believe the ability to freely use the internet is an important right — particularly for LGBTQ+ youth, undocumented immigrants, young women exercising their reproductive rights, and the elderly,” the organization said in a statement.

“We agree that New York’s young people are facing a mental health crisis, and with the importance of examining how youth interact with social media and the potential harms that may occur. Yet we believe that focusing on regulating social media’s algorithms does not address this crisis’ root causes,” the organization added.

What happens next?
The 2024 New York legislative session ends on Thursday, leaving lawmakers little time to approve the measure. If it passes by then, Hochul is expected to sign the bill into law.

If it goes into effect, the measure could face legal challenges from the tech platforms as well as logistical difficulties centered on enforcement, said Aynne Kokas, a professor of media studies at the University of Virginia and author of “Trafficking Data: How China is Winning the Battle for Digital Sovereignty.”

“Any state-level bill would face challenges when trying to manage or provide oversight over large tech platforms,” Kokas told ABC News. “It’s a very difficult challenge and in many ways very unfair to put on under resourced state governments, even in big states like California and New York.”

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