Legislating Social Media Addiction?

Legislating Social Media Addiction?

The negative effects that social media addiction and excessive time spent online has on children and teens has been a topic of conversation for years. Cyber-bulling, low-self esteem, distracted driving, depression, and mimicking dangerous behaviors depicted in viral videos have become increasingly common for today’s youth. Now, lawmakers in New Jersey have decided to address this issue by filing legislation that would hold social media companies accountable–but is it the right approach?

S3608 and A5069 seek to prohibit social media platforms from using certain practices or features that “cause child users to become addicted” to that platform. While the bills do describe what addiciton is, they don’t get specific on what practices or features would be considered addictive.

My best guess would be something along the lines of the Snapchat feature where you build a “streak” for each consecutive day you use the app to message your friends. I can recall one incident about 10 years ago where one of my daughters lost her phone privileges, and became hysterical over the idea that her “streaks” would end, worried about the impact it could have on her friendships. I found out later that she had her sisters log into her account to send messages, just to keep her streaks alive. So yes, I get it–social media addiction can cause considerable emotional and mental distress.

Even so, I find the lack of specificity problematic: some children are addicted to tracking their “Likes” and “Follows”–will those features also in violation of the law?

Neither bill has had a hearing yet, so the parameters are still unclear, but one thing is for certain: the potential penalties being proposed are steep. Social media platforms that run afoul of the law would be subject to civil penalties up to $250,000 per offense.

I’m going to follow these bills as they make their way through the legislature, but my first impression thus far is that parental responsibility needs to be part of the conversation, and these bills–while well-intentioned– tread into “nanny state” territory. What’s really needed is an education program for parents and their children, warning them of the dangers inherent in social media use, and perhaps some guidelines for parents to follow in terms of limiting screen time.

In my opinion, limiting a child’s exposure to social media and enforcing restrictions is a matter that should be left up to the parents, not government intervention.

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