The U.S. surgeon general issued a “call for urgent action” to policymakers about further limiting social media access for youth, along with enhancing online privacy protections for children.
Policymakers need to help create safer and healthier online environments to protect the mental health of children, including teens through age 17, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said Tuesday in a 25-page advisory.
The advisory follows statements by President Joe Biden in his February State of the Union speech calling on lawmakers to pass legislation to further protect children’s online privacy.
Teens are online almost constantly, and there is growing evidence social media use is associated with harm to their mental health, Murthy said in a press release.
Policymakers need to write rules to strengthen and enforce age minimums for social media and “require a higher standard of data privacy” for children online to help snuff out exploitation and abuse of kids, he said.
“Children are exposed to harmful content on social media, ranging from violent and sexual content to bullying and harassment,” Murthy said. “… We are in the middle of a national youth mental health crisis, and I am concerned that social media is an important driver of that crisis—one that we must urgently address.”
Murthy issued 10 recommendations for technology companies, saying they have a “fundamental responsibility” to design safe online environments and address risks associated with social media.
The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) mandates websites aimed at children under 13 first receive parents’ consent before gathering personal data from children. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforced the law as part of a proposed order announced Tuesday against education technology provider Edmodo.
Edmodo allegedly collected personal data from school children without full parental consent and used that data in advertising efforts.
Edmodo, which shut down its U.S. operations during the FTC’s investigation, allegedly skirted COPPA’s parental consent requirement by instead asking schools for consent to collect students’ personal data. The agency cited Edmodo for “unlawfully outsourcing its COPPA compliance responsibilities to schools,” the FTC said in a press release.
If Edmodo starts up again in the United States, the order would require it to comply with COPPA and other FTC rules. The agency suspended a $6 million proposed fine against the company because it is unable to pay.
Edmodo could not be reached for comment.