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For more than a year now, we’ve been hearing about all the negative consequences of social media use for young kids. There have been stories in the mainstream media and high-profile news segments on programs like “60 Minutes.” Some new legislation has started to appear in states around the nation. Even the Surgeon General of the United States has spoken out against social media.
So why don’t we have yet the equivalent of a “smoking is bad for your health” warning label plastered on every social media platform? Why aren’t companies like Facebook and Twitter doing more to age-restrict social media usage, or to set up curfews for our youth? And, most importantly, why hasn’t Congress acted yet? Yes, there have been some bills that have gained bipartisan support in Washington, D.C., but none of them are yet ready to be signed into law.
Always follow the money
The answer, as might be expected, has to do with money. The big social media platforms are making so much money these days from social media advertising that they have no incentive to act. It’s only after massive fines or penalties have been levied against them that they are incentivized to act. Even when top executives of these companies are dragged in front of legislators on Capitol Hill to give testimony, there seems to be a lot of foot-dragging later.
But, perhaps more insidiously, there’s a whole system of lobbyists working behind the scenes for the tech industry to guarantee that the rate of change is as slow as possible. Anytime new legislation gets introduced, they go into action. Sometimes, their tactics are very slick indeed.
For example, they are currently arguing that new age verification laws, which would make it mandatory for social media platforms to verify that young users are above a certain age to use social media, would be a *horrible* violation of privacy. They argue that the loss of social media privileges might also result in the loss of what they call “online support communities.” And they warn of the perils of “online surveillance,”
But all of this is really just a smokescreen. Go to a site like Open Secrets, which details the lobbying efforts of different companies, and it’s easy to see how much money the big Silicon Valley companies are spending in Washington, D.C. these days. For example, Meta (the parent company of Facebook), spent nearly $20 million in 2022 on lobbying expenditures. This number has been on the upswing since 2016, which is when the big tech companies started to feel the heat for the first time. Right now, Meta has a team of anywhere from 65 to 75 lobbyists on Capitol Hill working at any time!
What legislation will we get?
Unfortunately, all of this tech lobbying could mean that any legislation we get is tremendously watered down, or even worse, never gets passed into law. Thus, while there is plenty of great legislation (such as the Kids Online Safety Act) ready to go, it’s uncertain whether it will get passed into law.
The Biden Administration has a new task force working on things, and this might lead to an even longer wait time. It might take awhile until regulators and politicians can finally agree on best practices and best recommendations. But parents have no time to wait. And our kids certainly do not either.