Lawmakers Targeting Instagram With Bipartisan Bills to Support Children Online (Boumenjapet | Dreamstime.com
By Jason Clemons | Monday, 04 April 2022 08:17 PM
In this age of heightened political tensions among Republicans and Democrats, it's easy to forget some bill proposals still can generate hefty bipartisan support.
Namely, laws designed to protect children.
This week, the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) and the Children and Teens' Online Privacy Protection Act (often called COPPA 2.0) garnered positive attention, with the bills being well-received on both sides of the aisle. Formal voting will take place an undetermined date.
The common opponent in this battle to protect children's online rights? Instagram.
According to a Wall Street Journal report from last September, Meta (formerly Facebook) found many instances where its Instagram app would have been deemed harmful to children.
The report cited a three-year study in which Meta/Facebook realized teenage girls were learning about suicide on the IG platform. According to the study, 13% of British users and 6% of American users traced the serious and delicate issue back to Instagram posts.
Also, "32 percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse," the study researcher wrote, according to CNBC.
Facebook also learned that 14% of boys in the United States said Instagram made them "feel worse about themselves."
KOSA, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., will provide "kids and parents with the safeguards, tools, and transparency they need to protect against threats to children’s health and well-being online. The legislation would require social media platforms to put the interests of children first, providing in environment that is safe by default.
"The Kids Online Safety Act also ensures that parents and policymakers know whether social media platforms are taking meaningful steps to address risks to kids by requiring independent audits and supporting access to important data for experts and academic researchers."
KOSA would require social-media platforms, such as Instagram, to perform an annual independent audit assessing risks to minors — ensuring that new technologies are developed with the safety of kids and teens in mind, according to The Hill.
And COPPA 2.0, co-sponsored by Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., would "prohibit the collection of personal information from users who are 13 to 15 years old without consent."
How would the bipartisan bills operate in a real-world setting?
Citing Instagram as an example, the new KOSA would eliminate some of "the most common design features that keep kids hooked," according to The Hill.
The feature changes might include: Disabling autoplay settings that encourage extended and unhealthy viewing, minimizing push alerts which tempt kids to quickly log back onto programs, and suspending the concept of badges that "reward high usership."
KOSA would also require platforms to provide an opt-out for teens, when presented with algorithm-based recommendations that might be viewed as harmful content.
What's more, COPPA 2.0 would ban all targeted advertising to children, preventing Instagram, among others, from collecting and using personal data that might expose the psychological and emotional vulnerabilities among children.
In a nutshell, the onus would be on social networks to "prevent and mitigate" a child's exposure to inappropriate content — covering a wide range of fields, including alcohol and drug use, eating disorders, self-harm, and sexual exploitation.