New York governor signs bill regulating social media algorithms, a first in the United States

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In this illustrative photo, a teenager uses her cell phone to access social networks. New York is the first state to pass a law regulating social media algorithms, amid nationwide allegations that apps such as Instagram or TikTok got users hooked with addictive features.


Big changes are coming for New York’s youngest social media users after the governor. Kathy Hochul signed two bills Thursday cracking down on digital platform algorithms and the use of children’s data.

The unprecedented move makes New York the first state to pass a law regulating social media algorithms, amid nationwide allegations that apps such as Instagram or TikTok have hooked users with addictive features .

Hochul’s signing comes days after U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy called for warning labels to be enforced on social media platforms, fueling a debate over the potential impact of social media on mental health users, especially adolescents.

Under New York’s SAFE For Kids Act, social media platforms will be required to display content in chronological order by default for children under 18, while New York’s Privacy Act Children will prevent websites from collecting or sharing the personal data of users under the age of 18 without their consent. Expand existing federal privacy protections for children under 13.

The SAFE For Kids Act also requires platforms to limit late-night app notifications that participants are designed to boost user engagement and that may interfere with sleep. Both pieces of legislation were introduced last fall and were approved by the state legislature in early June.

New York officials hailed the legislation as a critical check on the influence of social media platforms on teenagers.

“Today we are saving our children,” Hochul said Thursday at a news conference. “We heard their cries for help, reminding us as adults that we have a moral responsibility to protect young New Yorkers from harm and the forces of addiction.”

In a statement released Thursday afternoon, a Meta spokesperson said, “While we do not agree with every aspect of these bills, we are pleased that New York will become the first state to adopt legislation recognizing the responsibility of application stores. »

“According to research, the vast majority of parents support legislation requiring app stores to obtain parental permission to download apps, and we will continue to work with policymakers in New York and beyond to advance this approach,” the spokesperson said.

CNN has contacted Google, Snap and TikTok for comment.

Some academics have said that while studies find associations between specific types of social media activities and negative mental health outcomes — such as engaging in social comparisons — the causal link between these harms and general use of social media is less clear. Yet many state and federal lawmakers have pushed for legislation cracking down on social media platforms, arguing that tech companies’ products are responsible for eating disorders, insomnia, distractibility and, in some cases , self-harm and suicide.

“We will save lives through this, my friends,” Hochul said during Thursday’s press conference.

New York Attorney General Letitia James added Thursday that the legislation would address “the most dangerous aspects of social media, the addictive algorithmic feeds that exploit impressionable minds.”

“These bills will allow my office to set rules and ensure businesses follow them,” James said.

Opponents of the social media algorithm bill — including, but not limited to, the tech industry — have said the legislation is likely unconstitutional because it infringes on children’s First Amendment rights and raises further questions about how social media can work in practice across state lines.

“It’s a well-intentioned effort, but it’s not aimed at the right target,” said Adam Kovacevich, CEO of the tech industry advocacy group Chamber of Progress. “Algorithmic curation makes teen feeds healthier, and banning algorithms will make social media worse for teens.”

The signing of the law sets the stage for another in a long line of court battles over state social media laws.

States like Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana and many others have passed laws cracking down on social media companies’ approach towards teenagers. Industry groups have challenged some of these laws, and courts have largely viewed these laws with skepticism. This year, for example, in Ohio, a federal judge temporarily blocked a law prohibiting online platforms from creating accounts for users under 16 unless they obtain parental consent, saying the legislation violated probably the first amendment.

Two states, Texas and Florida, have passed laws that would prevent online platforms from moderating their sites; legal challenges have been brought to the Supreme Court this term and a decision is expected within weeks.

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