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Alabama Senator Katie Britt advocates for tighter social media restrictions among minors

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Senator Katie Britt is one of four U.S. senators proposing a bill that could impact how children in America use social media.

The Protecting Kids on Social Media Act was first introduced to the Senate in late April. If enacted, the bill would affect children in three ways. It would ban social media use for all minors under 13. It would require parent or guardian approval for social media use among minors aged 13 to 17. And it would ban platforms from using algorithms to promote or recommend content to users under 18.

Despite being bipartisan, the bill has left many politicians, advocates and experts scratching their heads.

The American Psychological Association released a health advisory last week that reported social media is not inherently harmful or beneficial to minors. It stated any effects from social media depend on a child’s personal, social and psychological circumstances.

Jessica Maddox is an assistant professor and social media expert at The University of Alabama. She said she supports the APA’s findings and said social media is just one factor affecting the lives of children.

“Social media is just one piece of the puzzle,” she said. “When our kids are also in schools practicing constant active shooter drills and there’s legislation trying to tell them who they can and can’t be, there’s a lot that harms young people. I think it’s important to look at it [social media] holistically and not from [the] side of an apologist or an alarmist.”

In response to the bill, Maddox said banning is never the best solution.

“I don’t think banning works. I think banning creates curiosity about the object,” she said. “I think of any kid that snuck into an R-rated movie before it was time. [When] you’re told you can’t do something, it makes it all the more enticing. Education is absolutely the answer and teaching kids how to use social media correctly.”

Maddox also said banning the use of algorithms among children is an impossible hurdle for tech companies to achieve because all social media platforms use algorithms.

“While I applaud the effort, to ban algorithms [for users under 18] is shooting for the moon and just completely missing the mark,” she said. “I don’t know what they expect social media platforms to do then. I don’t understand why this is where resources would be devoted to instead of looking at ways to hold platforms accountable.”

Maddox instead encouraged other solutions. “I think supervised access to social media and educational training in classrooms as young as elementary schools is really what we need and what we should be devoting our resources and attention toward,” she explained.

Maddox said she supports the creation of social media literacy programs that educate children on everything from beauty standards and filters to algorithms and how they function. She also said supports certain legislation that restricts social media.

“I definitely think legislation of social media can be a good thing,” Maddox said. “I frequently advocate for more federal regulation of platforms. I think we need legislation that encourages social media companies to be more responsible with user data and transparent about algorithms.”

The APA in its latest health advisory also offered recommendations including screenings for “problematic social media use,” family-led coaching on social media use and minimal exposure to online discrimination and cyberbullying.

The bipartisan bill was introduced to the Senate Commerce, Science, Transportation Committee by Senators Katie Britt (R-AL), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Christopher Murphy (D-CT) and Brian Schatz (D-HI).

Joshua LeBerte is a news intern for Alabama Public Radio.
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