U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy.

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy is one of four Senators who introduced legislation Wednesday to prohibit anyone under 13 years old from using social media platforms and require that minors between 13 and 17 get consent from a parent or legal guardian to sign up. 

The Protecting Kids on Social Media Act would also prohibit social media companies from recommending content through algorithms for people under 18. 

“I’ve watched with this combination of wonder and worry and anxiety,” Murphy said. “As I’ve seen both my children be subjected to these algorithms that are intent to addicting them to their screens,” Murphy said at the D.C. press conference. “And pulling them away from much more filling and meaningful connection to their family and to their peers.” 

Murphy said the legislation would take important steps to protect children and hold social media companies accountable. 

Murphy said the bipartisan group of Senators, which included Sens. Brian Schatz, D-Hawai‘i, Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and Katie Britt, R-Ala., are all raising young children. 

“Parents want and deserve tools to help keep their kids safe online. Today, they simply don’t have those tools. This bill fixes that,” Murphy said. 

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said the bill would put parents back in control of what their kids experience online. 

Murphy said it was the most “a-political” topic he discusses with his constituents. 

The proposed legislation follows a growing trend of governments and regulators around the world seeking to address concerns about the impact of social media on mental health, privacy, and democracy.

The legislation comes as evidence shows social media is causing depression and mental health issues in young people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey reported that 57% of high school girls and 29% of high school boys felt persistently sad or hopeless in 2021, with 22% of all high school students reporting they had seriously considered attempting suicide in the preceding year. Overall screen use among teens and tweens (ages 8 to 12) increased by 17% from 2019 to 2021, with tweens using screens for five hours and 33 minutes per day and teens using screens for eight hours and 39 minutes.

The legislation would require social media companies to undertake rigorous age verification measures based on the latest technology, prohibit children under the age of 13 from using social media, and require a guardian’s permission for users under 18 to create an account. 

The bill, which was unveiled until Wednesday due to the intense lobbying pressure by social media companies, 

And there seems to be bipartisan disagreement about how well age restrictions would actually work. 

Sen. Richard Blumenthal has similar legislation to crack down on dangerous algorithms, but is not convinced the age-restrictions included in Murphy’s bill are workable. 

Blumenthal co-authored his own legislation with Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.

The objective of the Kids Online Safety Act is to implement more rigorous controls on websites frequented by minors. This will be accomplished by empowering children and parents to deactivate addictive functionalities, activate privacy preferences, and opt out of algorithmic recommendations. The proposed legislation would mandate that these social media businesses conduct an annual independent assessment to identify risks to minors and assess the effectiveness of measures taken to mitigate those risks.

Schatz said the focus of the Protecting Kids on Social Media Act does center around age verification because they don’t believe the current age verification is working. 

“If you’re one of those people who does not think a parent should be involved in getting a kid on social media at the age of 13 we just have a fundamental disagreement,” Schatz said.

Cotton said age verification is done every day online and it’s simply not a good enough argument against the legislation. 

Murphy said the bipartisan group of Senators who introduced the legislation are all raising young children. 

“Parents want and deserve tools to help keep their kids safe online. Today, they simply don’t have those tools. This bill fixes that,” Murphy said.