New Bills Target Harmful Social Media Algorithms For Teens

New York’s governor, Kathy Hochul, recently signed two bills into law whose aim is to mitigate the impacts of social media on children and teens. These bills are among hundreds considered and several passed by US states in recent years, including age-appropriate design codes, laws requiring parental approval for social media use, and regulations for accessing pornographic websites.

The first bill will allow parents to prevent their children from seeing algorithmically suggested posts, aiming to curb what Hochul argues are ‘addictive feeds.’ The second bill will impose stricter limitations on collecting, using, sharing, and selling personal data of individuals under 18.

“We can protect our kids. We can tell the companies that you are not allowed to do this, you don’t have a right to do this, that parents should have a say over their children’s lives and their health, not you,” Hochul said at a bill-signing ceremony in Manhattan.

Under the SAFE act, apps like Instagram and TikTok would be limited for people under the age of 18 to only view posts from accounts they follow. It would also prohibit these apps from sending notifications to minors between the hours of midnight and 6am. Importantly, a provision within the bill allows for these restrictions to be lifted by “parental consent.”

Social media companies and free speech advocates have opposed these legislations. NetChoice, a tech industry trade group that includes Twitter/X and Meta, has criticized the New York laws as unconstitutional.

Inside the SAFE ACT

Arguably the more impactful of the two bills is the SAFE act, which targets the algorithms used by platforms like TikTok. TikTok is the primary focus of many proposed and passed bills around the country.

“Addictive feeds are getting our kids hooked on social media and hurting their mental health, and families are counting on us to help address this crisis,” said New York state attorney general, Letitia James, at the signing ceremony. “The legislation signed by Governor Hochul today will make New York the national leader in addressing the youth mental health crisis and an example for other states to follow.”

The SAFE for Kids Act adopts a targeted approach, unlike previous bills that imposed various risk assessments, safety features, and generalized responsibilities. It focuses on one harmful aspect of social media: the potential for addiction, specifically through nighttime notifications and algorithmic feeds. While harmful content served to minors has long been criticized, this bill concentrates solely on the potential “addictiveness” of these features.

The Science Behind Addictive Feeds

When speaking about addictions, most experts look to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5); the handbook used by healthcare professionals in the United States and much of the world as the authoritative guide to the diagnosis of mental disorders.

There have been many additions to the DSM-5 and its previous editions as our scientific understanding of mental disorders has grown. These include conditions like gambling addiction and alcohol addiction, both of which were previously viewed as either impulse disorders or moral failures rather than addictions. In the case of gambling addiction, the condition wasn’t fully recognized as an addiction until 2013 when the DSM-5 classified it as an addictive disorder like alcoholism.

Currently, behavioral addictions like social media addiction are not a part of the DSM-5. However, there have been numerous studies to support the fact that a small percentage of users become addicted to social networking sites and engage in excessive or compulsive use.

One study, recently published in PLOS Mental Health, reviewed previous research to examine how regions of the brain interact in people with internet addiction. The approach utilized functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a noninvasive imaging technique that measures brain activity by detecting changes in blood flow.

Researchers found that changes in brain chemistry were apparent in multiple areas of the brain, specifically in young people with internet addiction. These changes included a decrease in the functional parts of the brain involved in active thinking and an increased activity in parts of the brain when participants were resting.

Together, researchers found that these changes resulted in addictive behaviors and tendencies in adolescents, as well as behavioral changes linked to mental health, development, intellectual ability and physical coordination.

Studies such as these are becoming more commonplace in today’s social media age. One study earlier this year found that nearly half of all teens in the UK feel as though they have an addiction to social media, with studies in the US showing similar results.

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Unfollowing Social Media Addiction

Similar to substances like drugs or alcohol, social media has the ability to alter brain chemistry and cause addiction. Addiction to social media can look similar to an addiction to substances, and can often include mood changes, the development of a tolerance (needing more of the given substance or social media) in order to feel the same effects, and even withdrawal symptoms.

For those who may have developed an unhealthy relationship with social media apps, laws like the SAFE act may help to mitigate some harmful effects and prevent addiction in those under 18. However, to truly overcome an addiction to social media, therapy is often a recommended starting place.

Therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, motivational interviewing, and even traditional group therapy sessions have all been shown to be successful in helping those with an addiction to social media. Additionally, these therapies can all be done in either an inpatient or outpatient setting, which may be necessary for some with a more severe addiction or other co-occurring disorders.

If you’re looking to overcome an addiction to social media but aren’t sure where to start, view a list of online therapy options and learn more about starting therapy today.

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Zachary Pottle

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  • Zachary Pottle earned his B.A. in Professional Writing from Saint Leo University. His passion for writing has led him to a career in journalism, where he specializes in writing about stories in the pain management and healthcare industry. His main goal as a writer is to bring readers accurate, trustworthy content that serve as useful resources for bettering their lives or the lives of those around them.

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