Citing concerns over minors' mental health, the Biden administration on Tuesday launched a task force aimed at addressing the impact of social media on teens and children.
The new group, lead by the Department of Health and Human Services, will “identify current and emerging risks of harm to minors associated with online platforms, as well as potential health benefits of using online platforms,” the White House said when announcing the initiative.
The task force plans to develop “voluntary guidance" along with policy recommendations.
Fairplay, which advocates for children and teens, praised Biden's move and renewed its call for Congress to pass the new laws.
That organization supports the federal Kids Online Safety Act, which would require platforms to take “reasonable measures” to prevent and mitigate a host of harms potentially associated with social media use -- including depression, eating disorders, and online bullying -- when displaying material to users the platforms know or should know are 16 or younger.
Critics of that bill, including the think tank TechFreedom, say the measure could prevent minors from accessing material protected by the First Amendment, which generally protects a wide range of content that might be harmful -- such as photos associated with eating disorders.
News of the White House's task force comes the same day that Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy said in a report that social media use may be unsafe for minors.
“The current body of evidence indicates that while social media may have benefits for some children and adolescents, there are ample indicators that social media can also have a profound risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents,” that report states. “At this time, we do not yet have enough evidence to determine if social media is sufficiently safe for children and adolescents.”
That report contains several recommendations, including that policymakers heighten privacy protections for teens.
“Six-in-ten adolescents say they think they have little or no control over the personal information that social media companies collect about them,” the report states.
The Surgeon General's report also calls for “age-appropriate health and safety standards” -- including “protecting children and adolescents from accessing harmful content (e.g., content that encourages eating disorders, violence, substance abuse, sexual exploitation, and suicide or discusses suicide means).”
California, Arkansas and Utah have already passed laws that aim to regulate social media companies.
California's recently enacted Age Appropriate Design Code requires online companies that are likely to be accessed by users under 18 to prioritize their “best interests” and “well-being."
That law also includes prohibits online sites that are likely to be accessed by minors from collecting or sharing their personal information -- unless it's necessary to provide a specific service that the minor is actively using, or unless collecting or sharing the information is in minors' best interests.
The tech industry group NetChoice is seeking to block California's law, arguing it violates the First Amendment by interfering with social media companies' editorial decisions.
Arkansas and Utah have recently passed laws that prohibit minors under 18 from using social media without parental consent. Those laws likely will also be challenged as unconstitutional infringements on teens' right to express themselves online and accessing editorial material.