Conservatives are Leading the Way to Protect Kids Online
Empower Parents, Safeguard Children, Protect Privacy
Children need protection in all facets of their lives. While traditional threats persist, a new danger has accumulated in the digital age: social media.
Numerous studies demonstrate that Big Tech companies care most about enticing kids to remain online without considering the consequences.
The fears of social media are pervasive and impact every American family. Tech, now fully ingrained into our daily life, must include guardrails to ensure the protection of our children and empowerment of parents. States have led on this issue, but the balance between protection, tools, and privacy is elusive. Parents, schools and government must all play a role – but without Big Brother impinging on adults’ First Amendment rights to conduct anonymous research.
Conservative lawmakers are providing Common Sense answers to the ever-growing dangers imposed by social media platforms.
A Solution to Protecting Kids Online:
Our Three Core Principles
1 – Holding Social Media Companies Responsible:
Common Sense Ideas To Hold Social Media Companies Accountable
Social media companies need to be held accountable for some of the most egregious practices that compromise the safety and privacy of children. The Wall Street Journal has been tracking the persistence of pedophiles on social media platforms like Instagram despite promises by Meta to adjust its algorithms and how TikTok‘s algorithms are serving intense war videos to 13-year-olds. WSJ even called TikTok “Every Parent’s Nightmare” in an expose on child sexual exploitation.
- Senator Josh Hawley: ““The numbers are really stunning that one in four teenagers, minor children will experience sexual solicitation on Meta’s platforms. At some point. One in eight say that they have experienced unwanted sexual advances. We’re talking about children now. These are not adults. Children have experienced unwanted sexual advances just in the last week within the last seven days, and of course we know from Meta’s own internal research that they knew the extent of this problem even as they were ignoring you.””
And its not just sexual abuse and violent imagery. U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy recently issued an Advisorywarning of the “growing concerns about the effects of social media on youth mental health.” He called for policymakers, technology companies, and families to all engage and be proactive to protect children. Even the American Psychological Association advocated parental monitoring and usage limitations to help keep kids safe.
The Wall Street Journal: Instagram Connects Vast Pedophile Network – Jeff Horwitz and Katherine Blunt
Pedophiles have long used the internet, but unlike the forums and file-transfer services that cater to people who have interest in illicit content, Instagram doesn’t merely host these activities. Its algorithms promote them. Instagram connects pedophiles and guides them to content sellers via recommendation systems that excel at linking those who share niche interests, the Journal and the academic researchers found.
- The Institute for Family Studies commissioned a poll that found the majority of parents favor parental access to the social media accounts of their children as well as parental permission to establish those accounts. And offered a policy recommendations:
- Parental consent to open an account – Congress could require that all social media platforms and other websites that allow minors to open profiles first obtain the explicit and verified consent of a parent or legal guardian
- Administrator-level access for parents – Congress could require that all social media platforms give parents access to view what content their children are watching, and who they are communicating with.
- Move the age limit to have an account online to 16 – Increase the age at which companies can collect data on minors to 16, rather than the current 13 under COPPA.
- A 2023 survey by org, found that parents are not just part of the solution, they are demanding a solution.
- 98% of American parents believe social media platforms are dangerous to users under 18. They are most worried about children being exposed to age-inappropriate content.
- More than two-thirds of parents believe that children under 18 need more legislative protections from social media, and that kids under 9 shouldn’t access social media at all.
- 89% of parents support laws requiring children under 18 to obtain parental permission before accessing social media, and 85% of parents believe they should have complete access to their children’s social media accounts.
- 91% support laws prohibiting social media apps from collecting personal data from children.
- Parents identified TikTok and Snapchat as the most dangerous social media platforms for their children.
2 – Ensure Schools Do Their Part to Limit and Educate Children of the Dangers on the Internet
Common Sense Ideas For Safeguarding Children And Empowering Parents
Writing in National Review Brad Wilcox, a fellow of the Institute for Family Studies and the American Enterprise Institute, and Zach Whiting, a fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation laud red states for taking the lead to protect children from social media: “It has fallen to states, primarily red ones, to step in and look for ways to give greater power to parents to protect their children.”
In 2023, Florida passed forward-thinking legislation designed to protect children from social media exposure in schools. School districts are required to adopt an Internet safety policy, available to parents, that prevents access to social media on district devices and limits access to technology that does not protect student’s personal information. In addition, the bill requires schools to provide “instruction on the social, emotional, and physical effects of social media.” Read more here
- Florida State Senator Danny Burgess: “I believe this is the most important bill that I have had the opportunity to pass as a legislator and a father. With social media and the unprecedented access that smartphones put in the palm of our hands, it is harder than ever before to be a parent.”
Georgia’s “Student Technology Protection Act” (HB338) likewise mandates appropriate school-use policies to safeguard students. Significantly, Georgia provides “for inclusion of parental measures and controls” in school-level Internet safety policies. Read more here
- The American Conservative: The Social Illness – Clare Morrell
“Five Pro-Family Priorities for the 118th Congress and Beyond,” a new report co-released on February 16 by the Institute for Family Studies and the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), found that 80 percent of parents, regardless of political party, want parental consent required before a minor opens a social media account and 77 percent want parents to have administrator-level access to what kids are seeing and doing online. … All parents, across party lines, want help to protect their kids online. Parents are tired and fed up with being the only ones fighting these battles on the front lines.
- The Center Square: Empowering Parents Doesn’t Mean Banning Social Media – Caden Rosenbaum
Despite what legislators are claiming, bans aren’t a pro-parent approach. Legislation to ban minors from social media gives the government (politicians and bureaucrats) the power to decide what’s best for children. And as usual, it’s set to do a poor job of it. … It also takes the power out of the hands of parents, who are the ones best positioned to find what’s best for their kids, and puts it in the hands of bureaucrats. … If the warning signs are true, and social media is creating all the harm talked about in the news, we can’t simply ban the problems away. We’ll need to address them head-on with solutions that balance liberty, free speech, privacy, and parenting. Without these, we will fail to set up the next generation for offline and online success.
3 – Protect an Individuals’ Right to Conduct Anonymous Internet Research
Common Sense Ideas To Protect Internet Privacy And First Amendment Rights
Imagine a future where you must enter your drivers license or login to a government-monitored page in order to conduct a search for firearms options or objective vaccination side effects? This is unacceptable. The government must never require people to enter identifying information to conduct Internet research.
R Street Institute‘s Shoshanna Weissman lays out the privacy and first amendment issues with age verification mandates:
- Age-verification methods, in their current forms, threaten our First Amendment right to anonymity
- The technology to verify your age without violating your privacy does not exist
- If platforms are required to have your government IDs and face scans, hackers and enemy governments can access them too
Similarly, the Daily Beast writes: “Social Media Age Requirements Are Anti-Free Speech.”
- “Age verification requirements endanger the ability of Americans to operate anonymously online, as the laws require the collection of information from everyone regardless of age. The statutes do not mandate a specific type of age verification; indeed, their vagueness on that point suggests that nobody quite knows how to meet the requirements without creating massive privacy problems. … the mere collection of identifying information—either by an online service or its third-party intermediary—creates a link between users’ online activities and their names.”
Judge Timothy Brooks, ruling in Netchoice, LLC v. Griffin noted the same issue:
- “Age-verificationrequirements are more restrictive than policies enabling or encouraging users (or their parents) to control their own access to information, whether through user-installed devices and filters or affirmative requests to third-party companies. ‘Filters impose selective restrictions on speech at the receiving end, not universal restrictions at the source.’ Ashcroft v. ACLU, 542 U.S. 656, 657 (2004). And ‘[u]nder a filtering regime, adults . . . may gain access to speech they have a right to see without having to identify themselves[.]’”
Writing on his blog, nationally recognized legal scholar Professor Jonathan Turley said: “As will likely come as little surprise to most on this blog, I agree with the decision and the need to protect these First Amendment rights.”
- R Street Institute: The Fundamental Problems with Social Media Age-Verification Legislation – Shoshanna Weissman
State and federal legislators across the country are introducing well-intentioned, but flawed, legislation to protect kids from what they perceive as harm from social media. This legislation would, or does, require websites to verify the age of users in order for them to hold accounts. In the case of users under the age of 18, a parent or guardian must consent to their child using social media. But every one of these pieces of legislation—including some that have become law—have fundamental problems ranging from the functionality of age-verification technology to violations of the First Amendment inherent to the technology itself.
- Jonathan Turley Blog: Federal Court Strikes Down Social Media Age-Verification Law On First Amendment Grounds – Jonathan Turley
He found that requiring adult and non-adult users to produce state-approved documentation to prove their age and/or submit to biometric age-verification testing imposes significant burdens to constitutionally protected speech and “discourage[s] users from accessing [the regulated] sites.” While acknowledging the “admirable” intentions of the legislature, the court held that “the governmental interest in protecting children does not justify an unnecessarily broad suppression of speech addressed to adults.”
- Reason: Arkansas Social Media Age Verification Law Likely Violates First Amendment – Eugene Volokh