Senator Gounardes Talks About His Legislation to Protect Children on Social Media with Politico

Andrew Gounardes

Originally published in Politico on .
Senato Andrew Gounardes stands alongside Attorney General Letitia James and Governor Kathy Hochul to push for protections for kids on social media.

FEED FIGHT: Growing concerns over kids’ mental health are fueling an effort in New York to combat algorithm-driven social media feeds.

A proposal backed by Gov. Kathy Hochul and pressed by state lawmakers over the last two years would allow algorithmic feeds to be blocked for children. They also want stronger data privacy protections for kids on social media sites.

Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, has called for federal action rather than state legislation.

“While some state laws align with solutions we support, we have been open about our concerns over patchwork and conflicting legislation that hold different apps to different standards in different states,” Meta spokesperson Rachel Holland said. “These proposals will mean parents and teens have inconsistent experiences online.”

The company has countered with support for parental approval for kids under 16 when accessing app stores and giving some apps parental controls while also being supportive of efforts in Ohio and California.

Meta has also backed standards developed by the industry for age-appropriate content and standards for apps commonly used by teens. Targeted ads would limit personalization for kids under 16 as well.

“We support clear, consistent legislation that makes it simpler for parents to help manage their teens’ online experiences, and that holds all apps teens use to the same standard,” Holland said.

But state Sen. Andrew Gounardes isn’t convinced. The Brooklyn Democrat has sponsored legislation embraced by Hochul to address data privacy for kids. He spoke with Playbook about the effort.

This interview is edited for length and clarity.

Meta says federal legislation is needed for something like this and not having individual states come up with their own regulatory plans. Why not have Congress act?

The last time Congress took action to protect kids online was 1998 when we were still getting disks for America Online sent to our houses. We were still using dial-up. It was a very, very different world back then. I have zero faith Congress will rise to this moment and do anything meaningful.

I think it’s just a false argument advanced by Meta. It’s not in their interest to advance any regulation.

If big states like New York and California push for this kind of data privacy protection, will that lead to some sort of national adoption? Or will Meta and TikTok take what the states have done to make that their blanket policy?

As New York goes, as California goes, so goes the country. We’ve been in touch with folks in California who want to emulate what we’re doing here.

If we do this, I think the companies will have no choice but to change their practices and have it be nationwide. By the way, they already have the ability to do this because they’re doing this in other parts of the world.

A lot of what we’re talking about, these companies are already deploying in overseas markets. Their only reason for resisting us here is because they make money off of kids’ mental health and personal privacy. It’s the only reason why they’re trying to throw up a roadblock.

Have policymakers reached a tipping point with how social media feeds and digital algorithms have affected not just how kids are thinking, but also adults?

It is indisputable the effect social media has had on our personal well-being, on our collective well-being, how we view politics, how we view our neighbors.

A lot of that comes from the use of these predictive algorithms which are designed to addict us so we’re glued to the screen longer and longer and also enhance the loudest, most aggressive and most egregious social media voices in the room.