New Legislation Would Limit Social Media Features Harmful to
Teen Mental Health, Prevent Collection of Children’s Personal Data
Legislation Comes as Mental Health Issues Among
Vulnerable Teens Have Doubled in Recent Years
NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James, Governor Kathy Hochul, State Senator Andrew Gounardes, and Assemblymember Nily Rozic announced new legislation today to help keep children safe online and prevent dangerous health consequences of addictive social media platforms. Recent research has shown devastating mental health effects associated with children and young adults’ social media use, including increased rates of depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and self-harm. The advent of dangerous, viral ‘challenges’ being promoted through social media has further endangered children and young adults. Children also face unique risks when their data is collected online. The two bills, both sponsored by State Senator Gounardes and Assemblymember Rozic, will protect children by prohibiting online platforms from collecting and sharing their personal data without consent and limiting addictive features of social media platforms that are known to harm their mental health and development.
“Social media platforms are fueling a national youth mental health crisis that is harming children’s wellbeing and safety,” said Attorney General James. “Young New Yorkers are struggling with record levels of anxiety and depression, and social media companies that use addictive features to keep minors on their platforms longer are largely to blame. This legislation will help tackle the risks of social media affecting our children and protect their privacy. I applaud Senator Gounardes and Assemblymember Rozic for sponsoring this legislation, I thank Governor Hochul for her focus on this issue, and I am proud to help advance these commonsense measures to protect the next generation of New Yorkers.”
“Our kids are in crisis, and the adults in the room need to step up. The statistics are extraordinarily disturbing: teen suicide rates are spiking, and diagnoses of anxiety and depression are surging,” said Governor Kathy Hochul. “It’s critical we all stand together to address the youth mental health crisis, and I’m proud to partner with Attorney General James, Senator Gounardes, and Assemblymember Rozic to fight for our kids’ future.”
“As a parent of two young children, taking legislative action to protect our children on social media is personal,” said State Senator Andrew Gounardes. “For years we’ve implemented safeguards to shield youth from major industries such as tobacco, alcohol, and personal vehicles. Social media can be just as harmful, and it’s crucial that big tech companies no longer circumvent sensible regulations designed to protect their youngest users. Today is a crucial step in ensuring big tech can no longer prioritize profits over children’s well-being. I am proud to partner with Governor Hochul, Attorney General James, and Assemblymember Rozic in the fight to protect the well-being of children online.”
“Today, we take a critical step towards safeguarding the online privacy of our children and young adults. The New York Child Data Protection Act will provide defenses in an era where digital platforms often overstep boundaries,” said Assemblymember Nily Rozic. “In a world where our children live much of their lives online, it’s imperative that we establish clear boundaries to protect their privacy. This legislation empowers both parents and young users, giving them the assurance that their online experiences will be free from pervasive monitoring and data exploitation. We’re not only protecting privacy; we’re preserving the rights of children in the digital age. Thank you to Attorney General James, Governor Hochul, and Senator Gounardes for partnering with me in this crucial effort.”
Multiple studies have shown that social media can cause a wide range of negative mental health effects for children and young adults. Addictive feeds, which are designed to harness personal data to serve users content to keep them on the platform for as long as possible, have increased the addictive nature of social media platforms and heightened the risk to young users’ wellbeing. Ninety-seven percent of teenagers report being online daily, and research has found that frequent social media use among adolescents can be associated with long-term developmental harms. Multiple studies have found a link between excessive social media use, poor sleep quality, and poor mental health among young people. Other research has shown that adolescents who spend more than three hours per day on social media face double the risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes, including symptoms of depression and anxiety. Additionally, research has found that for young girls, the association between poor mental health and social media use is stronger than the associations between poor mental health and binge drinking, sexual assault, obesity, or hard drug use.
Children also face various risks to their privacy online. While other states and countries have enacted laws to limit the personal data that online platforms can collect from minors, no such restrictions currently exist in New York. This current deficiency leaves children vulnerable to having their location and other personal data tracked, shared, and sold online. As a consequence, that data is at greater risk of falling into the wrong hands, including human traffickers and others who might prey on young people.
The two pieces of legislation introduced today will add critical protections for children and young adults online by restricting the collection of minors’ personal data and changing how young users are served content online to reduce the harms of addictive features that keep children on social media longer.
Bill #1: Stop Addictive Feeds Exploitation (SAFE) for Kids Act
This SAFE for Kids Act will require social media companies to restrict the addictive features on their platforms that most harm young users. Currently, platforms supplement the content that users view from the accounts they follow by serving them content from accounts they do not follow or subscribe to. This content is curated using algorithms that gather and display content based on a variety of factors. However, algorithmic feeds have been shown to be addictive because they prioritize content that keeps users on the platform longer. Addictive feeds are correlated with an increase in the amount of time that teens and young adults spend on social media and significant negative mental health outcomes for minors.
To address this problem, the legislation will:
- Provide users under 18 with a default chronological feed from users they already follow — the same way that social media feeds functioned before the advent of addictive feeds. Users may also search for specific topics of interest. Minors may opt in to receiving addictive feeds with parental consent.
- Allow parents to opt out of access to social media platforms for minors between the hours of 12:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. and limit the total number of hours per day that a minor spends on platforms.
- Prohibit social media platforms from sending notifications to minors from 12AM and 6AM without verifiable parental consent.
- Authorize the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to bring an action to enjoin or seek damages or civil penalties of up to $5,000 per violation. Allow any parent/guardian of a covered minor to sue for damages of up to $5,000 per user per incident, or actual damages, whichever is greater.
- Provide platforms an opportunity to cure any claim brought by the parent/guardian of a covered minor.
This legislation will only impact social media platforms with feeds comprised of user-generated content along with other material that the platform recommends to users based on data it collects from them. For example, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and YouTube would all be subject to this legislation.
Bill #2: The New York Child Data Protection Act
With few privacy protections in place for minors online, children are vulnerable to having their location and other personal data tracked and shared with third parties. To protect children’s privacy, the New York Child Data Protection Act will prohibit all online sites from collecting, using, sharing, or selling personal data of anyone under the age of 18 for the purposes of advertising, unless they receive informed consent or unless doing so is strictly necessary for the purpose of the website. For users under 13, this informed consent must come from a parent. The bill authorizes OAG to enforce the law and may enjoin, seek damages, or civil penalties of up to $5,000 per violation and authorizes the parent/guardian of a minor to seek damages of up to $5,000 per user per incident, or actual damages, whichever is greater, and/or injunctive or declaratory relief. Online sites will be provided an opportunity to cure any claim brought by a parent/guardian of a minor.
“Children need our protection as they spend an ever-growing percentage of their time online and engaged in social media,” said Michael Mulgrew, President of United Federation of Teachers. “These are common sense precautions to help parents navigate their children’s online experience.”
“In order to prepare our children for success in this rapidly changing world and job market, we must create conditions that allow them to navigate emerging technologies and social media platforms safely and wisely,” said Melinda Person, President of New York State United Teachers. “These bills are an important step in curbing the power these platforms can have over kids and would help to keep our schools as spaces where both students and educators can thrive.”
“School leaders have seen firsthand how social media can impact the wellbeing of students of all ages,” said Henry D. Rubio, President of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators. “The Council of School Supervisors and Administrators applauds Governor Hochul, Attorney General James, Senator Gounardes, and Assemblymember Rozic for the SAFE For Kids Act, which will prevent social media from offering addictive feeds to any children under 18 years of age, and the NY Child Data Protection Act, which will protect their privacy. The safety of our children is paramount, and this important legislation will help parents and educators prevent online harm to their social and emotional development.”
“Social media is the silent killer of our youth. Our children are our most precious commodity on the planet, and we need to protect them from the harm and danger of social media — our children are not for sale. My daughter’s life was irrevocably changed at the hands of social media companies, who pushed harmful eating disorder, self-harm, and suicide-related content to her from the time she was 11-years-old,” said Kathleen Spence, Middle School Teacher, Mother of Alexis Spence. “Although Alexis is in a good place now, we are choosing as a family to stand together, even though we relive our pain and suffering each time we speak out, in the hopes that we can prevent this from happening to other children and their families. This important legislation is a critical step forward to keep social media companies accountable for the harms they cause children, which has caused a nationwide youth mental health epidemic. I applaud Attorney General James, Senator Gounardes, Assemblymember Rozic, and Governor Hochul for advancing this legislation and prioritizing our children’s online safety.”
“The New York Child Data Protection Act will provide much needed online privacy protections for young people, allowing kids to spend time learning and playing online without putting their personal data at risk,” said Allie Bohm, Senior Policy Counsel at the New York Civil Liberties Union. “We all want young people to be safe when they use the internet. We commend Assemblymember Rozic, Senator Gounardes, and the Attorney General and Governor’s Offices for prioritizing this issue and look forward to continuing our work with them and other stakeholders to protect children — and eventually all New Yorkers — against abuse and misuse of personal information online.”
“NYS PTA continues to support educational practices and policies that support the positive mental health of students. On behalf of our 2.6 million school children, and our nearly 250,000 members, we applaud Attorney General James, Governor Hochul, and the sponsors of this legislation, in working to curb many of the harmful aspects of social media,” said Kyle Belokopitsky, Executive Director of the New York State Parent Teacher Association (NYS PTA). “In a recent survey of our members, 82 percent believe that social media is one of the top 5 issues that affect our children’s mental health. We are proud to work with National PTA on this issue through the PTA Connected program, and look forward to seeing this legislation become law.”
“School boards share parents’ concerns that their children’s online data will be pirated and abused by commercial entities that may gain access to that information,” said Robert S. Schneider, Executive Director of the New York State School Boards Association. “The data our young people may unwittingly provide through their online activity must be protected from those who would seek to collect and use it for their own monetary gain. We thank Attorney General James for recognizing the importance of this issue and for her efforts to advance the online safety of vulnerable children and teens.”
“For years, social workers have observed and sounded the alarm on the detrimental effects of addictive social media feeds on the mental health and well-being of our children. Studies have shown how addictive social media feeds can lead to increased incidences of depression and even suicide, especially in young girls,” said Luisa Lopez, President of the Latino Social Work Coalition. “In an era where their lives are deeply embedded in the digital world, it becomes even more crucial to prioritize their safety and mental wellness. The Latino Social Work Coalition stands unwaveringly in support of the new legislation focused on Children’s Online Safety. This legislation, which seeks to curb addictive feeds and establish stringent data privacy measures for our youth, is not just about protection — it’s about paving the way for a healthier digital future for them. Every child has the right to a secure online space to learn, grow, and connect. This legislation marks a monumental stride in that direction.”
“Addressing the mental health of our children has never been more important as they are faced with a multitude of stressors compromising their well-being. Unregulated internet and social media have become leading culprits contributing to children’s poor mental health,” said Sharon Horton, Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness NYS (NAMI NYS). “NAMI-NYS applauds Attorney General James, Senator Gounardes, and Assemblymember Rozic for introducing legislation to help keep children safe online and prevent dangerous health consequences caused by addictive social media platforms. These measures are long overdue and NAMI-NYS is proud to stand alongside the Attorney General and the legislators in taking these bold steps to improve the mental health of New York’s children.”
“The harmful impact of unregulated, predatory social media on vulnerable youth has gone on for far too long. Recent research findings have detailed the devastating results these intentional policies are having on young people, especially among teen girls,” said Rosemonde Pierre-Louis, Executive Director of the NYU McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research. “This proposed legislation introduced today by Govenor Hochul, Attorney General Letitia James, State Senator Andrew Gounardes, and Assemblymember Nily Rozic is a major step in both protecting our kids and holding bad actors accountable.”
“We strongly support the Safe for Kids Act. As pediatricians across the state, we know the potential negative impacts that the unbridled internet and addictive platforms can have on children and teens,” said Dr. Warren Seigel, Chair of the New York State American Academy of Pediatrics. “We have seen the increases in depression, self-doubt, self-destructive behavior and health and behavioral problems directly related to lack of sleep that are the result of overuse of addictive platforms. Addictive platforms can and often do contribute to very problematic outcomes for children and youth. We look forward to working with Governor Hochul, Attorney General James, Senator Gounardes, and Assemblymember Rozic to pass legislation that can help protect children from addictive platforms, increase parental involvement and knowledge of the harms that unrestricted access to addictive platforms can have on children, and incentivize the platforms themselves to design protections for children by eliminating addictive programming.”
“What happened to Alexis was neither an accident nor a coincidence but rather the predictable consequences of social media platforms intentionally designed to maximize user enhancement over public safety,” said Matthew P. Bergman, Founder of the Social Media Victims Law Center. “Social media companies knowingly exploit kids’ emotional vulnerability and neurologic immaturity to addict them to their platforms by subjecting them to progressively more extreme and dangerous material. We applaud Attorney General James for seeking to hold social media companies legally accountable for the carnage they are inflicting on our kids.”
“As the nation’s only pan-Asian children and families’ advocacy organization, CACF has had an inside look at the current mental health crisis affecting our children and teens. Asian American girls are particularly vulnerable, with studies showing that they are both more likely to experience symptoms of depression and less likely to seek help from a school counselor,” said Anita Gundanna and Vanessa Leung, Co-Executive Directors of the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families (CACF). “CACF is proud to support this new legislation backed by Govenor Hochul, Attorney General James, Senator Gounardes, and Assemblymember Rozic that would both protect the mental health of our young people and ensure that their personal data is safeguarded. The addictive nature of social media apps along with the lack of age-appropriate internet safeguards often create a perfect storm when it comes to anxiety, depression, body image, and mental health.”
“CPC works with thousands of young people every year, and we see the detriments that social media plays on their emotional and mental well-being. We need to ensure that there are safeguards in place that protect the mental health and privacy of our youth,” said Wayne Ho, President & CEO of the Chinese-American Planning Council (CPC). “CPC is grateful to Governor Hochul, Attorney General James, Senator Gounardes, and Assemblymember Rozic for their leadership in implementing protections and measures to hold big tech companies accountable. We look forward to working with them and the State legislature to ensure that the SAFE for Kids Act and the New York Child Data Protection Act are passed this upcoming session.”
“We have unfortunately seen too many instances of families falling apart due to minors addictive social media habits,” said Rabbi Yeruchim Silber, Director of New York Government Relations at Agudath Israel of America. “It is critical to protect minors from these destructive influences. We thank Govenor Hochul, Attorney General James, Senator Gounardes, and Assemblymember Rozic for introducing this important legislation.”
“As attorneys who litigate cases involving catastrophic injuries caused by tech products, children represent the majority of our most severe cases — involving addiction, eating disorders, child sexual abuse, and suicide. We experience firsthand the legal challenges of litigating cases against big tech, and the emotional challenges because the damage has already been done by the time we’re involved,” said Carrie Goldberg and Naomi Leeds of C.A. Goldberg, PLLC. “The SAFE for Kids Act and the Children’s Data Protection Act are important because they aim to stop the damage to children by social media product before it’s done. We thank Governor Hochul, Attorney General James, Senator Gounardes, and Assemblymember Rozic for their leadership on this issue. It’s high time these companies be compelled to create safe products for children, instead of seeing their youngest users as raw material to extract data from and addict.”
“Given the increased rates of poor mental health outcomes such as depression, anxiety, and self-harm related to social media, EPIC supports efforts to improve safeguards for children and youth,” said Tara N. Burgess, Executive Director & CEO of Every Person Influences Children (EPIC). “Holding social media platforms accountable to restrict youth data collection and reduce addictive content distribution is an important step in protecting children. This legislation will give families tools to protect their children in an ever-changing technology and social media landscape.”
“This important legislation being supported by Govenor Hochul and Attorney General James will be a big win for one of our most vulnerable population groups our children,” said Mendy Mirocznik, President of Council of Jewish Organizations of Staten Island. “This legislation will permit the parents and legal guardians of our children to have a greater level of control in protecting our children from the dangers of internet platforms. We applaud the Governor, the Attorney General, and the coalition of legislatures who from a broad spectrum will hopefully create a much-needed safety and protection for the youth of our state.”
“We applaud and wholeheartedly support the legislation proposed by Govenor Hochul, Attorney General James, Senator Gounardes, and Assemblymember Rozic,” said Avi Greenstein, Executive Director of Boro Park Jewish Community Council. “Too many studies and real-life stories have shown how damaging social media can be for our minors. This legislation is a much-needed step towards protecting the greatest asset we have, our children.”
This legislation is part of Attorney General James’ ongoing efforts to protect New Yorkers online. In July, she led a multistate coalition of attorneys general to defend the federal government’s ability to communicate with social media companies about dangerous online content. In April, she released a comprehensive guide to help businesses adopt effective data security measures to better protect New Yorkers’ personal information. She also joined a bipartisan coalition of 44 attorneys general urging Facebook to abandon plans to launch a version of Instagram for children under the age of 13. In October 2022, she investigated and released a report on the role online platforms played in the Buffalo mass shooting. She also announced a $1.9 million agreement with the owner of SHEIN and Zoetop for failing to properly handle a data breach that compromised the personal information of millions of consumers nationwide. In June 2022, Attorney General James secured $400,000 from Wegmans and required the retailer to improve data storage security after a data breach exposed consumers’ personal information.