Assembly members stand for the Pledge of Allegiance in the...

Assembly members stand for the Pledge of Allegiance in the Assembly chamber at the start of the 2024 legislative session at the State Capitol in Albany on Jan. 3. Credit: Times Union via AP / Lori Van Buren

ALBANY — Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and TikTok would be banned from offering addictive, algorithm-based feeds to promote content to young people in New York State under legislation given final approval by the state Assembly on Friday.

The “Stop Addictive Feeds Exploitation for Kids Act,” or SAFE for Kids Act, which the State Senate unanimously passed on Thursday evening and the Assembly approved 142-1, restricts social media platforms from providing algorithm-based feeds to those under age 18 without parental consent.

The State Legislature also unanimously approved the “New York Child Data Protection Act,” which starting next year would ban — except in certain instances — online sites from collecting, using, sharing or selling personal data for anyone under the age of 18 without consent. Parental consent would be required for those under age 13.

Both measures aim to protect young people’s data and mental health by limiting the potential negative effects of social media. New York is set to be the first state in the nation to regulate social media algorithms for young people.

The bills “get at the heart of this crisis by regulating two of social media's most harmful tools against youth: addictive algorithms and predatory data collection,” State Sen. Andrew Gounardes (D-Brooklyn), the Senate sponsor of both bills, said on the chamber's floor Thursday. These bills “make clear that our children's privacy and mental health are not for sale.”

The bills have been a major priority for Gov. Kathy Hochul and Attorney General Letitia James, and the governor is expected to sign both measures. 

“Our children are enduring a mental health crisis, and social media is fueling the fire and profiting from the epidemic,” James said in an emailed statement, adding that she hopes other states will follow suit. 

The algorithm bill has faced pushback from Big Tech groups, which have cited concerns with the age verification process, as well as potential violations of First Amendment rights. 

Neither “the platforms impacted by these bills nor any of the lawmakers voting on them have any clarity on how age verification will work,” said Julie Samuels, president and CEO of Tech: NYC, a nonprofit industry group that has been lobbying on behalf of its members, including Google, Yahoo and Meta, formerly known as Facebook.

Samuels, in a statement provided to Newsday earlier this week, called age verification the “single most important factor in determining whether this legislation will actually help kids.”

Support and concerns

The bill banning algorithm-based feeds would require parental consent for social media platforms to send notifications to minors between midnight and 6 a.m.

The algorithm is the “root of the problem” of why children spend so much time online and on smartphones, Assemb. Nily Rozic (D-Fresh Meadows), the Assembly sponsor of both bills, said during the debate Friday. “It was designed to keep users engaged as long as possible so that platforms can maximize their own revenue and keep users hooked,” she said.

She said the New York bill, unlike other states, doesn’t try to regulate speech or speakers but rather the “vehicle” that delivers addictive feeds.

James’ office would be in charge of creating rules and regulations for implementation of the algorithm bill, which would take effect 180 days after the rules are created.

Both bills allow the Attorney General’s Office to bring legal action and online platforms could face penalties of up to $5,000 per violation.

The majority of questions and concerns during debate on the Assembly and Senate floors centered on the algorithm bill, though both bills drew bipartisan support. 

I’m supportive of efforts to try to rein in the worst of the internet,” said Assemb. Andy Goodell (R-Jamestown) during the floor debate Friday. “The concern I have is all this rests on the attorney general, not on our IT experts that we employ here in the state,” he said, taking issue with the rulemaking being left to the Attorney General's Office. 

State Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola) spoke in support of the algorithm measure, but “would have liked to have seen more parental oversight,” including allowing parents to better monitor their child’s social media accounts.

With Yancey Roy

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