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Hochul signs bills to keep kids SAFE

UFT has governor’s back in bid to restrict 'addictive' social media feeds
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Hochul signs bills
Susan Watts/ Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

UFT President Michael Mulgrew (center, background) joins Gov. Kathy Hochul at UFT headquarters on June 20 as she signs two bills aimed at protecting kids and teens from addictive social media feeds.

Gov. Kathy Hochul chose UFT headquarters on June 20 to sign into law two "first-in-the-nation" pieces of legislation to protect children online.

The Stop Addictive Feeds Exploitation (SAFE) for Kids Act prohibits social media companies from pushing "addictive" algorithm-driven feeds to anyone under 18 without parental consent. Kids, instead, would receive a chronological feed of content from users they already follow. The legislation also blocks platforms from sending late-night app notifications on suggested posts between midnight and 6 a.m.

The New York Child Data Protection Act restricts social media platforms from collecting data on children ages 12 and younger without parental consent and from children age 13 and over without informed consent. Social media firms use such data to target advertising that brings in billions of dollars.

"Today, we save our children," Hochul said. "We have a moral responsibility to protect young New Yorkers from harm and from addictive forces that are trying to transport them from happy-go-lucky kids into teens who are depressed, isolating themselves from human contact and — in some extreme cases — contemplating ending their own lives."

Both pieces of legislation were unveiled at UFT headquarters last fall and passed in the state legislature in early June.

Advocates for the health and welfare of children say the new laws are long overdue and address internet safety for children at the state level. Since the passage of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act in Congress in 1998, the federal government has failed to act.

"We have to protect our children in a place where they spend more time now than ever before and that is online," UFT President Michael Mulgrew said. "Big Tech does not want these laws. They believe that no one should tell them what to do. But if something is dangerous, and it's dangerous specifically to children, then it is up to us to say, 'We're not going to have this.'"

Mulgrew's remarks came as the U.S. surgeon general in a June 17 op-ed in The New York Times called for warning labels to be placed on social media platforms, saying there is a high risk of mental health harm to teens.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, who helped shape New York's newest laws, agreed with the need for warnings. "It's taken a toll on our children's mental health," she said at the signing ceremony at union headquarters. "Just as we label cigarettes as addictive, hazardous to our health, we should do the same for social media platforms."

James said the new state laws "take on the most dangerous aspect of social media: the addictive algorithms and feeds that exploit impressionable minds."