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New York state lawmakers move to ban harmful algorithms on children's social media feeds

This stock photo shows children using their smartphones.
Adobe Stock
This stock photo shows children using their smartphones.

In a rare bipartisan vote, the New York State Legislature approved new rules to ban harmful algorithms in children’s social media feeds.

Democrats and Republicans alike said the change will help improve kids’ mental health.

The measures ban big tech companies from showing algorithmic feeds to children and teens under the age of 18 and prohibit social media companies from making overnight push notifications to young people unless their parents consent to it.

A second bill forbids the companies from collecting and selling children’s personal data online without parental permission.

Increased use of social media among children is linked to higher incidents of depression, anxiety and suicide.

State senators burst into spontaneous applause as the bills passed, 60-0, in their chamber.

Senate sponsor Andrew Gounardes, a Democrat, said Big Tech makes an estimated $11 billion a year in profits through sites like Instagram and TikTok.

“Social media algorithms are heat-seeking missiles designed to target a user's vulnerabilities and maximize user engagement at all costs,” Gounardes said.

He compared the lack of rules on kids’ media feeds to allowing children to ride in cars without seat belts.

“If Big Tech had their way, they would keep kids in speeding cars without seat belts,” he said. “But today — today, we're going to act. Today, we're putting seat belts back in cars.”

Sen. Jack Martins, a Republican, said he supports the bills but wishes they had included even more parental controls.

“It's rare to see unanimity in this chamber on something as important as this, and I'm glad we are,” Martins said.

“But I would have liked to have seen more parental oversight when it comes to access to these accounts, overseeing them,” he continued. “Because one of the things we should rely on is family and the ability of family and parents to have access to those accounts, monitor those accounts.”

The measures passed nearly unanimously in the Assembly, with only one vote in opposition to the algorithm ban.

Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, a Republican member, said the fines imposed on the tech companies for violations of the law are too high.

The bill now goes to Gov. Kathy Hochul. The governor championed the measures, saying they were her highest priority for the end of the session.

She is expected to sign them.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.