As I campaign in Fairfield County, I constantly speak to parents concerned about their children. And for good reason: this generation of young people have unprecedented rates of anxiety and depression, and much of this can be attributed to increased time spent on social media and the internet.
Something has to change: we have to make the internet, and especially social media, safer for children and teenagers.
Tech companies work internally to eradicate harmful content and practices like harassment, hate speech and misinformation. I know something about their current efforts – I worked to prevent child exploitation on Facebook and Instagram as a member of the Meta Child Safety team. But it is clear that the government should have a key role to play in setting security standards that companies must meet.
We need consumer protections so companies design their sites with the safety of young people in mind. That’s why, if elected, I’ll draft legislation to provide guardrails for our youngest Internet users, modeled on a bipartisan bill that recently passed unanimously in the State Senate of California.
California law establishes the right technology regulations. This requires tech companies to provide important privacy settings by default, rather than forcing users to sign up through complicated processes. It also disables location-based services that track where people are when they access a website – and, importantly, it bans “nudge techniques” that encourage unsuspecting children to provide additional personal data.
Here in Connecticut, it’s time to adopt similar age-appropriate design code to ensure online platforms are designed with the well-being of children in mind.
Now, I am not an anti-technologist. The social internet can be a powerful tool for our communities to connect and thrive. In fact, I currently work with other online security professionals at the Integrity Institute to advise tech companies, regulators, and legislators on ways to improve our Internet. But we need ethical design standards, so our young people aren’t sucked into auto-playing content burrows, often age-inappropriate and algorithmically optimized to grab their attention, while unwittingly having their personal data harvested. .
As policymakers, keeping our community safe should be our top priority, but there is a major gap in our federal law protecting children online. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act 1998 is limited to online services specifically aimed at children and only protects users under the age of 13. It does not apply to websites with large audiences, even when the vast majority of teenagers use popular social media. sites.
This is where we can intervene. Connecticut has always taken the initiative to protect its residents. We passed several gun safety laws, the first in the country after the Sandy Hook tragedy. In the wake of Dobbs’ disastrous ruling, we are leading the way with reproductive rights legislation that protects medical providers and patients who travel from out of state for abortion care. Now we can again take the lead and protect our most vulnerable residents. By adopting a “CT Kids’ Code,” our government can stand with concerned parents across the state and hold websites and social media sites accountable for keeping our communities safe.
This is not a partisan issue. Everyone – Democrats, Republicans and Independents – should be able to help make technology safer for children. If elected, I promise to harness my professional experience in online safety toward this goal and lead the fight to pass age-appropriate design code in Connecticut.
Tim Gavin is a Democrat running for the State Senate in Connecticut’s 28th District, serving the cities of Fairfield, Easton, Newtown, and Bethel.