New York officials announce legislation linking mental health issues in teens to social media use

The legislation would restrict algorithms that target young users.

October 11, 2023, 3:54 PM

Convinced social media platforms are fueling a mental health crisis among the nation’s youth, public officials in New York announced new legislation Wednesday that would restrict algorithms that target young users.

"Young New Yorkers are struggling with record levels of anxiety and depression, and social media companies that use addictive features to keep minors on their platforms longer are largely to blame," New York Attorney General Letitia James said.

The legislation would, among other things, give her office new enforcement power over social media companies.

Algorithmic feeds are designed to harness personal data to serve users content that keeps them engaged for as long as possible. Sponsors of the legislation said that has increased the addictive nature of social media platforms and heightened the risk to young users’ well-being.

PHOTO: In this undated file photo, the City Hall building is shown in New York.
In this undated file photo, the City Hall building is shown in New York.
STOCK IMAGE/Getty Images

Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube would all be subject to the legislation that allows users under 18 to opt out of receiving algorithmic feeds, allow parents to allow algorithmic feeds to limit access between 12 a.m. and 6 a.m. and prohibit social media platforms from sending notifications to minors during those same hours without verifiable parental consent.

The attorney general’s office would be authorized to bring an action to enjoin or seek damages or civil penalties of up to $5,000 per violation.

Back in May, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy warned that excessive social media use can be a "profound risk" to the mental health of youth in the United States.

"I’m very concerned that social media has become an important contributor to the pain and the struggles that many of our young people are facing," Murthy said in an interview on ABC News Live.

A surgeon general’s advisory is "reserved for significant public health challenges that require the nation’s immediate awareness and action," according to the report released by the surgeon general’s office.

The surgeon general said that while we’re in the "middle of a youth mental health crisis" it’s important to identify possible causes. The advisory recognizes that social media has both positive and negative effects on young people, but that ultimately there’s not enough "research and clear data" to determine if it’s "safe" for adolescents to use.

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