HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — A bipartisan bill that would give Pennsylvania parents a lot more control over their kids’ use of social media is advancing in the State Capitol. The bill passed the Communications and Technology Committee unanimously and will now head to the full Senate.
York County Republican Senator Kristin Phillips-Hill and Philadelphia Democrat Vince Hughes are sponsoring the bill.
“All we’re trying to do is is add this to the kinds of things that we need to be doing to make sure that our young people are protected,” Hughes said.
Hughes cited an advisory from the US Surgeon General in May, warning social media is having a negative impact on mental health for kids and teens.
“There are increased mental health and behavioral health issues amongst young people,” he said.
This bill aims to tackle the problem. The bill would require social media companies to get express parental consent for anyone under 16 to create new accounts. If someone under 16 creates an account without permission, their account would be suspended and a parent or guardian must be notified.
The bill also forbids social media companies from collecting data from anyone under 18 and requires them to let people delete information online. Parents would also be able to sue the platforms if any minor suffers physical or mental harm or are able to access harmful content.
The bill gives the attorney general authority to impose increasing fines if social media companies do not comply.
“So we think this is part of a larger effort to try to get some level of accountability, but most importantly, some level of safety and security for our young people,” Hughes said.
Not everyone thinks this legislation is feasible.
“I think it’s going to be very difficult to enforce this bill,” cybersecurity expert John Sancenito said.
Sancenito said there are multiple reasons for this. He said a state cannot really regulate a global industry, especially because many social media companies, like TikTok, are based outside the US. Another reason, he said, is because kids will find workarounds for these restrictions.
“There is no guarantee that the kids won’t lie about their age,” he said.
The bill requires social media platforms to verify users’ age, but Sancenito said that creates its own problems.
“Are they going to require people to upload copies of their their photo IDs? And if so, what are they going to do to safeguard that information and prevent it from being hacked?,” he questioned.
Sancenito agrees something needs to be done, but this is not it.
“I don’t mean to criticize the legislators. I think they had the best of intentions when they drafted this. I just don’t think in the form that it’s written, it’s really going to have an impact for what they are hoping to accomplish,” he said.
He has a different solution.
“We already have the means to protect kids online. It’s called parenting,” he said.
Sancenito said parents cannot shoulder the whole burden, but they can have significant control over what their kids do and access online. The issue, he says, is education.
“Most parents don’t understand social media. They don’t understand how their kids access social media, what they do on social media,” he said.
Hughes’ said his bill is also focused on parents — it just gives them a boost.
“We want to empower parents, and give some give them some help, as they try to monitor and work through a platform that when they were young, they probably didn’t have access to it,” he said.
Hughes said a full Senate vote on the bill has not yet been scheduled.