The Lead

Pa. Senate committee advances bill to restrict children’s access to social media

By: - September 19, 2023 2:46 pm

(Chris McGrath/Getty Images).

A state Senate committee on Tuesday unanimously voted to advance a bill that would add restrictions to children’s social media use.

Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York), one of the prime co-sponsors of SB 22 along with with Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia), said during the Communications and Technology Committee hearing that the goal of the legislation was to “empower” parents and safeguard teenagers’ mental health.

“The use of social media by teenagers is virtually universal, and at the same time we are facing a mental health crisis. unlike anything we have seen before,” Phillips-Hill said. “The data shows that far too many minors are struggling with mental health and that social media is a contributing factor.”

She cited data from a 2022 Pew Research Center report that found 95% of teens reported using YouTube, and 67% of teens have used TikTok. A 2018 Pew study found 45% of teens reported “feeling overwhelmed by the drama on social media” and 26% reported feeling worse about their own lives, Phillips-Hill noted, and a recent CDC report found that 1 in 6 high school students reported being electronically bullied in 2021, she added.

SB 22 would amend Pennsylvania  Title 50  to restrict access to social media by minors under 16 years old, by prohibiting social media companies or platforms from “intentionally, knowingly, recklessly or negligently causing or encouraging a minor to access content which the social media companies know or should have known subjects one or more minors to harm that is detrimental to the physical health, mental health or the wellbeing of a minor or that creates a reasonable likelihood of bodily injury or death to the minor.”

Phillips-Hill said the bill would also “prohibit data-mining for any user under the age of 18.” And, SB 22 would require a parent or guardian’s express consent for a minor to create social media accounts.

Companies that violate the requirements could be sued for actual and punitive damages, and if it became law, would be under the exclusive jurisdiction of the state attorney general.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania said in a statement that it opposes SB 22 — which it called “well-intentioned” —because it would “threaten the First Amendment rights of young people,” and invite parental surveillance, which could potentially deny teenagers access to online support or help. The ACLU-PA said the way the bill defines “harm” is “broad, subjective, and unenforceable,” and would likely require more data collection from all users, not just minors.

“SB 22 will likely have dire consequences for young people, especially vulnerable youth,” the ACLU-PA said.

The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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Kim Lyons
Kim Lyons

Kim is a veteran western Pennsylvania journalist who has covered people and trends in politics and business for local and national publications.