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Here's how Florida is protecting children from harmful and addictive social media

OpinionHere's how Florida is protecting children from harmful and addictive social media

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Everyone knows someone whose child has been hurt by social media. I’ve heard too many stories to count.

The daughter of one friend became suicidal because of what she experienced on a popular platform. The daughters of two different friends cut themselves after spending too much time on social media. 

So many parents have watched their daughters and sons spiral downward while racking up more posts and likes. 

Sad teen on tablet

Florida is moving to protect kids from the most harmful and addictive social media platforms. (iStock)

As parents of two young children, my wife and I are already worried about what will happen if they’re exposed to social media. It’s no exaggeration to say we’re afraid for their futures – and even their lives.

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It’s time to keep children safe. That’s why Florida is moving to protect kids from the most harmful and addictive social media platforms.

This week, the Florida House and Senate will overwhelmingly pass bipartisan legislation to that effect. We are narrowly targeting social media platforms that promote addiction, while ensuring that children can still access the countless educational, entertainment, and productive tools found online. 

Kids deserve the many opportunities that the internet offers. They also deserve protection from the worst the internet has to offer.

Under our legislation, children who are younger than 16 years old cannot create accounts on social media platforms that target them in concerning ways. That includes the use of individualized algorithms, which are designed to keep kids glued to the screen as long as possible, as well as deliberately addictive features like infinite scrolling and video auto-play.

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The bill is also limited to platforms on which at least 10% of young users spend two or more hours a day – a threshold that studies show threatens kids’ mental health. Many kids spend far more time on social media, and when teens reach three hours a day, they’re twice as likely to struggle with depression. 

The kids who are already struggling with mental health challenges get hurt the most. Algorithms and addictive features feed them an endless supply of content on the very things they should avoid, from self-harm to suicide.

Young girls are especially vulnerable, and as social media has taken off, their well-being has plummeted. We live in a time when 57% of high-school girls report persistent hopelessness or loneliness and 41% report monthly mental-health challenges. 

Worst of all, a stunning 30% of high-school girls have contemplated suicide in the last year. This is a crisis – a crisis that’s made worse by harmful social media.

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Social media didn’t have to take this road, and under our legislation, kids will still be allowed on platforms that do the right thing. They simply have to get rid of the kid-targeting algorithms and addictive features. 

The companies may say that’s not in their financial interest, but protecting the mental development of children is far more important than the corporate bottom line. Cigarette companies, brewers, distillers, and strip clubs would also make more money if they could target kids. But that’s illegal, as it should be.

Some have asked me why we don’t leave these decisions in parents’ hands. My response is simple: We’re strengthening parental rights

THE WAR TO SAVE OUR TEENS FROM SOCIAL MEDIA

Social media companies have designed their algorithms and features to outsmart children and parents alike. A child’s primary influence should be his or her parent, not an algorithm designed by strangers, and similar laws are designed to support parents in the difficult work of raising kids. 

When the law bans children from drinking alcohol, it gives parents more room to help them develop and find a path to a fulfilling life. Protecting kids from harmful social media is exactly the same.

The past two decades have been one big experiment on how social media affects America’s children. The results are in – and they’re awful to behold. 

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Companies are deliberately getting kids addicted to something that hurts them in profound ways. More children are suffering than ever before, pushed into depression, self-harm, and even taking their lives. 

Florida will no longer let this experiment continue. Our children are too important to sacrifice to social media gone wrong.

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