Albany Agenda

Hochul makes end-of-session push for social media bills

The governor used dire language to describe the impact of algorithms on kids’ mental health.

Gov. Kathy Hochul spoke about how she sees social media use impacting young people in her family.

Gov. Kathy Hochul spoke about how she sees social media use impacting young people in her family. Austin C. Jefferson

Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday said she is in talks with legislative leaders and is optimistic that two bills regulating kids’ social media use will pass before the end of session. 

The SAFE for Kids Act would restrict how social media companies use algorithms with children, requiring parental consent to send addictive feeds to kids and limiting some access between midnight and 6 a.m.  

The New York Child Data Protection Act would forbid internet companies from collecting and sharing kids’ data without parental consent. Both bills are sponsored by state Sen. Andrew Gounardes and Assembly Member Nily Rozic. Both have gotten vocal support from Hochul and state Attorney General Letitia James.

While there is widespread agreement over the harm that social media can do to adolescent mental health, there has been concern about how the restrictions could affect privacy and free speech because they require companies to verify users’ ages. A coalition of tech companies has also lobbied hard against the bills. But Hochul spoke in dire terms.

“(Algorithms are) designed for one thing,” she said. “We talked about what addiction means. It's designed to keep them right where they're looking for the longest period of time. There is no escape from their clutches.”

Studies have shown that social media can have an adverse effect on the mental health of children, with the American Psychological Association issuing a health advisory on adolescent social media use this year. Bill sponsor state Sen. Andrew Gounardes even thanked god that his kids were too young to use social media.

New York electeds weren’t the only ones expressing support for the bill, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got behind it Wednesday morning. Hochul said that while she felt the bill was trending well in the limited time left to pass it, litigation was likely.

“The nature of passing laws in New York is someone sues the next day,” she said.

Surveillance Technology Oversight Project Executive Director Albert Fox Cahn is not convinced these bills will help kids. He said “lawmakers have done a terrible job making the internet a safe place for everyone.”

Cahn said he and other government surveillance watchdogs are concerned with how companies would verify age on their platforms, possibly opening the door to invasions of privacy. 

“(The SAFE for Kids Act) has a lot of questions that don’t answer the most important thing, such as: How does it actually implement these age verification mandates? So I’m quite doubtful that this bill will help,” he said.