Overall, youth have been faced with a growing mental health crisis in recent years. For instance, depression rates for teens doubled between 2009 and 2019. While declines in youth mental health are attributable to numerous factors, such as the growing use of social media platforms designed in ways that increase exposure to harmful content and encourage unhealthy patterns.
Over the last two years, the pandemic has also caused youth to spend more time than ever online. This is happening at a time when suicide is the second leading cause of death for U.S. youth, with one in five teens considering suicide during the pandemic, and eating disorder emergency room admissions for teen girls 12- to 17-years-old doubling since 2019.
After five hearings held by the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security and numerous research findings, the evidence is abundantly clear of the potential severe impacts social media platforms can have on the brain development and mental health of our nation’s youth including, hazardous substance use, eating disorders, and self-harm. Below are just some of the stark national findings:
Instagram includes 90,000 unique pro-eating disorder accounts with a reach of 20 million followers.
Children as young as 9 and 10 follow three or more pro-eating disorder accounts.
Meta derives an estimated $230 million annually from pro-eating disorder accounts.
Fifty-nine percent of U.S. teens have reported being bullied on social media, an experience linked to increased risky behaviors such as smoking and increased risk of suicidal ideation.
Twenty-five percent of 9- to 17-year-olds report having had an online sexually explicit interaction with someone they believed to be an adult.
It has been long established that adolescence is associated with neurological changes that promote cravings for social attention, feedback, and status. Young users are simply less able to resist temptations to remain online as full brain maturation typically does not occur until age 25, which leaves children and youth to dozens of potential years of unregulated social media use.
The Kids Online Safety Act seeks to hold social media companies accountable after their repeated failures to protect children and adolescents from the practices that make their platforms more harmful. The bill establishes a duty of care for social media companies to protect minors from mental health harms, sexual trafficking, and illegal products. Additionally, the bill requires companies to go through independent, external audits, allows researcher access to platform data assets, and creates substantial youth and parental controls to create a safer digital environment.
The lack of transparency into the inner workings, policies and measured impacts of these platforms must be addressed now. The impact of social media algorithms on the user experience is woefully understudied due in large part to the lack of visibility by researchers into the data and how algorithms work (Epps-Darling et al., 2020; Bravo et al., 2019). The enormity of the youth mental health crisis needs to be addressed as the very real harms of social media are impacting our children today.
The Kids Online Safety Act is bipartisan bill led by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) to protect children's mental health and safety online. We have a mental health crisis for our youth, and they cannot wait!
The Kids Online Safety Act (S. 3663) hasn’t advanced since it was introduced in February this year, though panels of the committee have held hearings focused on protecting kids online. That includes hearing testimony from Frances Haugen, a former employee of Meta Platforms Inc.‘s Facebook who leaked internal documents showing the company was aware of social media’s negative impacts on children. Committee members also heard from representatives of Snapchat, TikTok, and YouTube.
Urge your Members of Congress to Advance the Kids Online Safety Act (S. 3663)
We need the Senate Commerce Committee to act NOW to move the bill forward!