Armando Ibarra: Empowering parents to protect kids online is common sense
Gus Bilirakis seeks to bring more decency online.

Kyiv, Ukraine - September 5, 2019: A paper cubes collection with
Florida and federal lawmakers can learn from Arkansas’ mistakes when drafting social media bills.

As our society spends more time on digital platforms, lawmakers face the crucial task of ensuring children’s safety online. Social media has had a major impact on young generations, as we have seen with the addictive and often harmful effects on children from TikTok. Guardrails should be in place to protect kids’ well-being. Empowering parents to oversee which apps their children download is common sense and a necessary solution.

The debate within Congress has spurred states to take their own steps to protect kids online and give parents tools to supervise their children’s access to social media. This year, two states — Utah and Arkansas — passed age verification laws that will implement age-related barriers for children’s online usage. But despite these well-intentioned motives, these bills were poorly executed.

For example, Arkansas lawmakers decided to exempt specific social media platforms, such as Google’s YouTube and Amazon’s Twitch, despite recent research showing that YouTube “tops the 2022 teen online landscape … as it is used by 95% of teens.” Another joint study by Gallup and the Institute for Family Studies (IFS) also found that mental health issues related to suicide and depression were associated with YouTube and TikTok.

Given these studies, Google and Amazon’s carve-outs are more likely a result of lobbying and campaign checks rather than well-executed policymaking.

I am encouraged that Florida’s House Regulatory Reform & Economic Development Subcommittee will host a hearing on “How Social Media Affects Minors,” where lawmakers will hear testimony from experts about how kids’ social media use impacts their mental health and well-being. Understanding the specific hazards of social media is an integral part of developing effective policies that protect kids online while empowering parents to make decisions that are best for their own families.

Florida and federal lawmakers can learn from Arkansas’ mistakes when drafting social media bills. Kids will not be adequately protected if some social media platforms such as YouTube and Snapchat are exempted, and it is equally important we do not adopt overbearing “nanny state” policies that place unnecessary burdens on families.

Instead, legislation should put power into parents’ hands by establishing parental consent controls in app stores. Approaching parental controls and age verification at the app-store level is forward-thinking and will effectively shield kids from harmful content regardless of its source — whether it’s today’s most popular platforms or those yet-to-be-invented.

By housing parental consent and age verification processes at the app store level, policymakers would also avoid creating a patchwork of approval processes or verification methods across apps that would unnecessarily burden parents trying to monitor and safeguard their children’s social media usage.

This approach also addresses concerns with data collection and security. App stores are already equipped to collect and protect sensitive personal information like credit card information, addresses or photo IDs. Leveraging existing cyber protections in these apps will help smooth the implementation of social media bills. Many Americans — me included — are uncomfortable handing over personal information to every app we download. Having one-stop-shops for age verification and parental consent measures will help keep American’s data secure.

Despite the potential pitfalls of implementing poorly formed legislation, it is imperative policymakers act swiftly to improve young Americans’ relationship with social media by ensuring parents approve the apps their children wish to download within app stores.

I encourage our lawmakers to pursue common-sense legislation that puts parents in control of their children’s safety.

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Armando J. Ibarra is a government affairs executive and policy adviser for companies, organizations, and leaders in the U.S. and Latin America. He serves as Chair of the Miami Young Republicans and Secretary of the Florida Federation of Young Republicans.

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