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ICYMI: Washington Post Exclusive on Sens. Cruz and Schatz Bill Getting Kids Off Social Media

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In case you missed it, The Washington Post today published an exclusive about a new bill from U.S. Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Member Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) to keep young kids off social media and help protect them from its harmful impacts.

Read the exclusive here and below:

Getting kids off social media is a uniting issue in the Senate

Schatz, Cruz introduce new bill to limit kids’ use of social media

There’s been a major breakthrough on efforts to protect kids from the pitfalls of social media.

Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) are unveiling a new version of a bill to limit kids’ use of social media. TheKids Off Social Media Act will be marked up tomorrow in the Senate Commerce Committee, on which Cruz is the top Republican.

Growing evidence shows that social media is having a negative effect on teens — leading to depression, anxiety, self-harm and dangerous behavior — and that social media companies have done little to nothing to prevent it.

“There is no public policy justification; there is no constitutional reason; there is no good reason for a nine year old to be on Instagram or TikTok. There just isn’t,” Schatz said in an interview. “I have met zero parents who oppose this legislation: I have not in my regular life, in my political life, and everywhere in between.”

Specifically, the bill:

  • Prevents children under 13 from accessing social media sites.
  • Prohibits social media companies from programming algorithms for teens younger than 17.
  • Gives schools the ability to block access to social media.
  • Would be enforced through the Federal Trade Commission.

“It’s really hard to be a teenager today. And it is incredibly frightening to be a parent today,” Cruz told The Early. “This legislation is trying to take a meaningful step to protect our kids.”

Social media threat

Regulating social media has long been a bipartisan goal on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers have accused tech companies of doing too little to protect children and putting profits ahead of safety.

But they have had limited success for a number of reasons: The influential lobbying power of tech companies resistant to regulation has slowed movement because aging lawmakers who don’t completely understand social media and new technology didn’t prioritize it for years.

The issue only picked up steam after Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testified before the Senate in 2021 with explosive allegations and documents alleging, in part, that social media companies are aware of the negative impacts on young people.

Adding to the urgency on Capitol Hill: studies that show a dramatic increase in depression, anxiety, suicide and other mental health conditions among teens and preteens possibly linked to social media use.

For example, a 2023 surgeon general advisory found that 95 percent of teens and 40 percent of children ages 8 to 12 are on social media. Nearly half of kids ages 13 to 17 said social media use makes them feel worse.

Top executives of Meta, TikTok, X, Discord and Snapchat have appeared before Congress multiple times and have been grilled about the impacts of social media on youth. In January, in a Senate hearing room filled with parents who blamed social media for the deaths of their children, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologized.

Strange bedfellows

The issue has led to some unusual partnerships. Schatz, a proud liberal, and Cruz, an outspoken conservative, worked together on the latest iteration.

The measure is a revamped version of the one Schatz introduced a year ago with Sens. Katie Boyd Britt (R-Ala.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). And it included the school social media provision from a bill that Cruz wrote with Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.).

Schatz, Cruz, Britt, Murphy, Cotton and Fetterman are all parents of teenagers and preteens.

“We’re all dealing with many of these same issues in our homes,” Cruz said of his colleagues who have worked on the issue. “And every parent I know, who has teenagers, who has adolescents at home, is struggling with these issues. And this bill is designed to give added tools to parents to try to help keep your kids safe.”

Murphy and Britt are co-sponsors of this version.

The bill’s prospects

The bill, which is expected to advance out of committee on Wednesday, does have its detractors, though. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, an online privacy group, called an earlier iteration of the bill “unconstitutional” and a “government-mandated prohibition.”

Meta doesn’t seem thrilled, either. A spokesperson said the company supports “industry-wide standards for youth” but didn’t get behind this one. Instead, it supports a requirement that parents must approve the download of all apps — not just social media apps — for kids under 16 years old. They notably don’t support banning programmed algorithms directed at teens.

But the bill’s sponsors are optimistic.

Schatz said the bill was written in coordination with the Senate Commerce Committee and the office of Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), giving the measure a huge potential boost, especially now that Congress has little on its plate for the next few months.

Advocates hope it is packaged alongside two other online safety bills for children: The Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), which places the onus on social media companies to ensure young people aren’t harmed for using their sites and institutes new parental controls on social media apps, and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, known as COPPA 2.0, which would ban targeted advertising to children and teens, and prohibit companies from collecting the personal information of users ages 13 to 16.