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Hawaii Senator Schatz aims at youth public health crisis

WASHINGTON, D.C. (KHON2) — There’s a new bill in Congress looking to keep kids off of social media. It comes as new data from the US Surgeon General shows that 40% of children ages 8-12 use social media, with adolescents who spend more than 3 hours a day on social media facing double the risk of anxiety and depression.

Hawaii’s Sen. Brian Schatz is a co-author of the bill and joined Wake Up 2Day on Thursday to share what he’s trying to accomplish with the legislation.

“We do two simple things in this bill,” Sen Schatz said. “12 and under you just can’t be on social media, and 13-16 which is a little tougher to prevent all kids from being on social media when they’re proper teenagers and in high school, we just simply turn it into the old social media which didn’t have this algorithmic boosting that basically taps into your brain stem to figure out what is most upsetting to you and therefore what is going to cause you to spend too much time staring at the app. For 13-16, the algorithm would be banned, and then 12 and under you just can’t get on the website.”

Much of the data around social media and smartphones is evolving with the frenetic pace of technology development, but Sen. Schatz says much of the mental health crisis for adolescents in the United States coincides with the rise in smartphone and social media usage.

“The Surgeon General and a lot of the people who pay very close attention to children’s mental health have made this determination that it is the advent of social media, especially for pre-teens and tweens, that is at least partly contributing to consistent levels of high anxiety, depression, polarization, isolation, suicidality, it’s all spiked since kids got those phones and the apps on them with algorithms on them.”

Sen. Schatz has teamed up with Republican Senators Ted Cruz and Katie Britt on the bill, an unusual bi-partisan group with a clear goal in mind.

“We’re going to disagree a lot about tech policy or other policy but I think the one place where we’ve been able to have a bi-partisan consensus is there’s really no reason for a 9-year-old to be on Tik Tok. There’s no benefit for a 10 or 11-year-old prepubescent child to be on Instagram internalizing terrible messages about body image or violence or politics that they don’t understand. The stubborn fact is that social media companies make more money when kids linger on sites longer. The way to get kids to linger on the sites longer is to systematically upset them using this AI driven algorithm.”

He adds that he has yet to run into a parent in the real world who has pushed back against measures to keep kids off of social media, and thinks that it’s on the government to help parents struggling to police screen time.

“The question for the federal legislature to ask is can you think of any positive use case for a 9-year-old being on TikTok or Twitter or Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat? There really isn’t one and kids at 9 do not have the same constitutional rights to use the internet in any way they see fit so legally I think we’re in a strong position, politically because it’s bi-partisan we’re in a strong position but the real reason I think this is going to pass is it’s just an idea whose time has come. We’ve got almost 60% of all teenage girls reporting that they consistently feel despair, and something like 33% of all teenage boys. There is a mental health crisis and obviously, it’s got a lot of different causes, but if you look at the charts it basically started to spike once the kids got all of their phones with the front-facing cameras and the apps preloaded. We’ve got to address this like the public health crisis that it is.”