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Federal legislation aims to protect kids from social media harms

Nadia Ramlagan

Pressure is mounting on lawmakers to hold social media companies accountable for algorithms and other practices linked to eating disorders, depression and other serious mental health issues in adolescents and teens.

After a second Facebook, now called Meta, whistleblower recently testified in Congress, advocates are once again asking Congress to pass the Kids Online Safety Act. The bipartisan bill would establish basic safeguards to protect kids on social media, and provide families with tools and transparency to handle online threats.

Frances Haugen, a member of the Council for Responsible Social Media and a Facebook whistleblower, said parents have been blindsided, and many blame themselves for their child’s self-harm or suicide.

“One of the things that I think is really tragic is how we’ve left parents alone to deal with these, you know, hundreds of billions of dollar companies to keep their kids safe,” Haugen stated.

According to the Children’s Defense Fund, more than 359,000 children live in West Virginia, and Haugen pointed out the majority use social media on a daily basis.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said nationwide, suicide rates for kids and young adults have jumped more than 60% since 2007.

Haugen explained the legislation would allow teens and parents to have more control over their social media use, including the algorithms driving what types of content a user sees.

“Imagine something as simple as having the right to reset your algorithms?” Haugen emphasized. “Right now, kids have to decide between their past — you know, all their posts, all their friends — and being stuck in rabbit holes that threaten their futures.”

One poll from the group Citizen Data finds 76% of Americans believe social media companies have a responsibility to design their platforms in a way that protects children’s mental health, even if it limits profits.

The social media companies countered they are doing what they can to protect children.