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Connecticut Bill Would Require Parental Social Media Consent

To combat mental health disorders among teenagers, the Legislature’s Children’s Committee gave unanimous approval to a bill that would require parental consent for children less than 16 years old to engage in social media.

(TNS) — In an effort to stem the rise of mental health disorders among teenagers, Connecticut state lawmakers this week advanced legislation that would require parental consent for children under the age of 16 to engage in social media.

The legislature's Children's Committee gave unanimous consent to the bill on Tuesday after receiving supportive testimony from several children's welfare organizations, including the Connecticut PTA and the state's Office of the Child Advocate.

Supporters of the bill pointed to studies linking social media use to a rise in mental health and mood disorders impacting teenagers, such as depression, body dysmorphia and suicidal thoughts. Other issues, including cyberbullying and sexual exploitation, are also a concern as children begin using social media at younger ages.

The co-chair of the Children's Committee, state Sen. Saud Anwar, D- South Windsor, said that social media platforms like Facebook have exacerbated the issue by using data collected from teens' social media accounts to target them with advertising that encourages spending even more time online.

"They make money on a young boy or girl spending more time on their website and increasing their screen time," Anwar said.

Social media companies that target their platforms to children under the age of 13 are currently regulated by the federal Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, which requires parental consent for websites to collect personal information about children covered by the law.

In order to ease complaince with the law, many social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter already require that users be over the age of 13.

Advocates for tougher regulations, however, argue that the law and the platforms' age restrictions are too easy for children to bypass by entering a different name or date of birth.

Anwar said lawmakers are seeking to address those concerns by establishing a new method for platforms to obtain a parent's consent before allowing teenagers to create a profile, though they have yet to settle upon a solution.

"We don't want it to be just a click, we want it to be more than that at the entry point," Anwar said.

None of the major tech platforms provided testimony on the bill to the Children's Committee during a hearing last week, though Anwar said lobbyists for the companies are keeping track of the bill's progress.

Representatives from The Connecticut Group, a Farmington lobbying firm that has previously represented Facebook's parent company, Meta Platforms, did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The legislation received bipartisan support on its way out of committee this week, and is sponsored by three Republicans in addition to Anwar, the Democratic committee chairman.

"Kids don't grasp the impact an online history can have on their future, " said one of the co-sponsors, state Rep. Christie Carpino, R- Cromwell, in a statement. "It also has the potential to expose them to difficult situations they may not be equipped to navigate. This bill would create a tool for parents to better protect their children and their sensitive information."

In addition to requiring parental consent for children under 16 to use social media, Anwar said the bill will be revised before heading to the Senate floor to include a provision allowing parents to request that a social media platform remove their child's account.

If passed, the legislation would go into effect on Oct. 1.

(c)2022 the Connecticut Post (Bridgeport, Conn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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