Lawmakers Want To Force Social Media Companies To Add Age Verification

A recently proposed bipartisan U.S. Senate bill aims to protect minors using social media platforms by imposing stricter age restrictions and giving parents more control over their children's online activities. The Protecting Kids on Social Media Act, championed by senators from both political parties, has sparked a debate around the balance between privacy, parental control, and children's online safety.

Under the proposed legislation, parental consent would be required for anyone under 18 to use social media, with a minimum age of 13 set for platform access. Many social media platforms already set this restriction in their terms, but enforcing it has been tricky.

The bill also seeks to restrict social media platforms from using algorithms to suggest content to minors. Furthermore, it proposes creating a pilot program for a new age-verification credential system that could be used to register on social media platforms.

Advocates argue that a national approach is necessary, considering that state-level initiatives to protect children online have been met with mixed reactions. For example, a Utah law will soon require parental consent for anyone under 18 to use social media, and it may force social media companies to allow parents access to their children's private messages.

How social media would change for kids and parents

One of the key challenges the bill addresses is age verification. Social media companies would be required to take more stringent measures to verify users' ages, which could raise privacy concerns. Current age verification technologies are limited and often rely on government-issued identification or facial scans, which some balked at when Meta began requiring it for verification on Instagram.

The bill suggests a pilot program to develop a digital identity credential for U.S. citizens. Managed by the Commerce Department, the program would use government-issued documents to verify users' ages on social media platforms or confirm the parent-child relationship for minor users.

That could be a slippery slope for those already skeptical about the amount of information state and federal agencies collect about individuals. Meta has already experimented with its own method for protecting minors, including more stringent default privacy settings upon profile creation on Facebook. It's a strange contradiction to lawsuits filed by NetChoice, a coalition of big tech companies who strongly opposed new California legislation that would require as much.

"This will undermine Americans' privacy and security and deprive parents of their constitutional right to make decisions about what's best for their kids online," NetChoice tweeted in response to today's bill proposal. 

Meta was also reportedly working on a separate Instagram app designed specially for kids. However, it pumped the brakes while investigating other troubling impacts its platforms have on young social media users.