This week, Representatives John Curtis (R-UT), member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), House E&C Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee Ranking Member, sent a strong message to Big Social Media Tech about underage users on platforms that violates terms of service. In letters addressed to Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook and owner of Instagram [LINK to letter]; Evan Spiegel, Snap. Inc. CEO [LINK to letter]; and Susan Wojcicki, YouTube CEO [LINK to letter], the lawmakers pressed to ensure underage users cannot access their sites after reports surfaced of high percentages of kids under thirteen accessing these sites and viewing potentially dangerous content.
“With over three billion combined global subscribers, your platforms have become routine modes of communication and are now a core part of our social fabric. However, we also know that these landmark technological advancements come at some cost to society,” said Curtis. “We acknowledge the challenging task of policing your site for underage or fake accounts, but increased attention must be placed on ensuring underage children are not using these sites and especially because they do not yet have the capacity to understand this content without parental guidance.”
Social media is often cited as the cause of teenage anxiety with documented cases of teenage cyber-bullying in addition to sexual harassment. Federal law protects children under the age of thirteen by prohibiting internet companies from collecting and selling data generated by children ages thirteen and younger. Larger social media platforms have even gone a step further by explicitly stating in their terms of service that children ages thirteen and younger are barred from registering to use their sites without parental supervision.
Despite this, a recently issued study from 2020 clearly shows that children ages thirteen and younger using these platforms without adequate safeguards in place to protect them from inappropriate content. The findings specifically indicate that, of the children ages thirteen or younger surveyed, 45 percent use Facebook and 40 percent are using Instagram. About 36 percent of this subset reported encountering harmful experiences online – 26 percent of which reported experiencing these interactions on Instagram, specifically.
The lawmakers asked for responses to the following questions as soon as possible:
What specific steps do you take to identify an underage user and therefore someone violating your terms of service?
Are there steps that you take to ensure these users cannot register under another false identification if you have identified an underage user? If so, what specific actions do you take? If not, are there actions being taken to address this issue and what are those specific actions?
What specific steps do you take to accurately verify a potential user’s identity before they can successfully register for your platforms? Are there more actions that you believe you can take to strengthen your verification methods to protect against underage users and from adversaries attempting to undermine our American ideals? If so, what are these actions?
What steps do you take or are you planning to take to protect younger users against cyber-bullying and sexually offensive content?
What steps do you believe Congress needs to take in order to help to protect our children from offensive content on your sites and from foreign adversaries using your sites to influence American society?