New York Reigns in Social Media Algorithms to Shield Youth with Novel Legislation

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The Empire State tightened the reins on the boundless world of social media as New York Governor Kathy Hochul inked her approval on a groundbreaking bill this Thursday. The legislation represents an exceptional effort to shield youth from the potential risks of algorithm-influenced social media content and addictive feeds that have earned the ire of critics.

The legislation targets apps frequented by youths under 18, including popular entities like Tik Tok and Instagram, and seeks to limit their exposure to posts from accounts they already follow, rather than consuming content suggested by an algorithm. Additionally, the law imposes a moratorium on sending push notifications for suggested posts to minor users between the hours of midnight to six in the morning.

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However, these protective measures could be nullified with what the bill refers to as “verifiable parental consent”.

Yet, implementation of the law isn’t instantaneous. New York’s trusted Attorney General, Letitia James, shoulders the task of laying down the specifics for ensuring the age verification and parental consent process. Once these rules are solidified, social media companies will be provided with a 180-day grace period to effectuate the necessary changes.

A fiercely committed Governor Hochul conveyed her dedication to the cause amid a Manhattan bill signing ceremony, “We can protect our kids, we can tell the companies that you are not allowed to do this, you don’t have a right to do this; that parents should have a say over their children’s lives and their health, not you,” she affirmed.

This is merely the first stride in an anticipated marathon of rule-making procedures, which could possibly be mired in legal snags as social media companies prepare to challenge the law in court.

NetChoice, an influential tech trade group including giants like X and Meta, has scorned the legislation, branding it unconstitutional. In calling out New York’s newest law, Carl Szabo, Vice President and General Counsel of NetChoice, proclaimed that New York was assaulting free speech and an open internet, while solving the issue of user age-verification could potentially hinge on government monitoring.

Qualms over ethical implications notwithstanding, big league social media platforms persist in projecting computer-generated suggestions to keep their audience hooked. What a user clicks, along with the preferences of similar users, largely influence these suggestions.

The New York legislation comes against the mounting backdrop of concerns surrounding children left free to navigate the treacherous waters of social platforms.

Meanwhile, California Governor Gavin Newsom recently announced a plan targeting overpowering smartphone usage among students during school hours. While specifics are yet to be put forth, Newsom has a precedent of signing a bill limiting school-based usage of smartphones back in 2019.

While there has yet to be an all-encompassing legislative approach at the federal level, concerns around the impact of social platforms on children’s mental health remain a recurrent topic of debate in Washington.

Calculating the pressure of a societal shift, a few tech companies have flirted with parental control tools on their platforms. Only last year, Meta, the conglomerate governing Facebook and Instagram, unveiled a mechanism that enables parents to police the time their children spend on the apps.

Initiated last October, the New York legislation met with significant resistance from the tech industry in its progressive voyage through the legislature.

“Social media platforms manipulate what our children see online to keep them on the platforms as long as possible,” Attorney General James stated regarding the necessity of this bill. “The more time young people spend on social media, the more they are at risk of developing serious mental health concerns.”