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NTIA takes on kids' online safety

Jan 18, 2024
an illustration of kids in front of a giant computer

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration is taking on the debate over how best to protect kids online.

What's happening: The agency has received more than 500 comments from groups and individuals, weighing in on how social media is affecting minors and what the government can do about it.

  • The submissions reflect long-standing battle lines between groups that say platforms need to be held accountable and others who agree minors face harm but worry that legislative proposals will result in censorship and have unintended consequences that further harm minors.

Reality check: It's ultimately up to Congress to transcend these disagreements.

  • Multiple submissions call for the passage of bills like the Kids Online Safety Act or comprehensive privacy legislation.
  • But so far lawmakers have failed to bring any bill to a vote.
  • There's still no consensus on whether kids' privacy or privacy for all Americans should be the priority.

State of play: Design It for Us, which comprises activists from 18 to 26 years old, told Axios it worked with young people in the group and outside content creators to craft submissions.

  • The group is calling on the government to require platforms to incorporate safety into their product designs by default, address "surveillance" advertising, make platforms deprioritize algorithms that addict users, and give users control of their personal information.
  • "From 2009 to 2019, depression rates doubled among minors with suicide becoming the second leading cause of death for children ten to fourteen years old. Something needs to change," Annmarie M wrote to NTIA.

The other side: Fight for the Future told Axios it provided guidance to a Discord group after it reached out about how to best respond to the NTIA's request for comments.

  • The Discord group has 1,900 members who are mostly young queer people.
  • Fight for the Future says more research needs to be done on the harms of censorship and demonetization faced by marginalized content creators, as well as the impact of existing laws, before any attempts to regulate content again.
  • "I was very depressed growing up and I couldn't quite understand why I never was able to be feel good in my skin, until I started researching my feelings and found out that I was trans and moving forward with my transition more than likely saved me from becoming another statistic," Jamison Doherty wrote.
  • "Social media and the Internet itself benefits minors so they can both find out about themselves and can find resources to help guide them."

Companies in their submissions highlighted the work they're already doing to protect kids, such as prompting users to take breaks and establishing community guidelines that make clear what content isn't allowed.

  • For teens under 16, Meta said, it supports legislation that requires parental approval of app downloads and requires certain apps, including social media ones, to offer parental supervision tools.
  • Google said legislation should tailor protections to the age of the child and tackle various risks with proportional responses.

What's next: NTIA is co-leading a White House task force and will use the input it has received to develop policy recommendations and voluntary guidance on kids' mental health, safety and privacy online.

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