New York Comes Down on Digital Content Platforms’ Algorithms

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New York’s governor has signed a bill enforcing algorithm control on digital content platforms, protecting children.

  • The bill will require Instagram and TikTok to set a default for minors that will block suggested posts on their feeds.
  • A second provision also mandates the applications not to send suggested post notifications to minors between midnight and 6 A.M.

On June 20th, New York’s Governor signed a bill that prevents digital content platforms from using algorithms to recommend content to minors, with more to come.

For the better part of the last year, the U.S. government has been in a battle with algorithms, specifically Instagram’s and TikTok’s. The U.S. surgeon general even asked Congress to require warning labels on social media platforms like those on cigarette boxes that say, “This product causes cancer”.

However, what the government is really worried about is children’s exposure to certain digital content on any social media platform. The bulk of their concern lies in the algorithm that these applications use to suggest to the user what to watch. Hence, they want to exercise algorithm control, especially to protect minors. But could too much control hinder rather than help?

A First for the U.S.

In an unprecedented move, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed a bill allowing parents to turn off algorithmic feeds for their children. If a user is under 18, they will only see digital content from people they follow. Another provision prevents any digital content platform from sending minors notifications for suggested posts during the early hours of the morning—from midnight and 6 a.m. Those will be the default, and the minor can only change them with “verifiable parental consent.”

The law won’t go into effect for some time, but there’s a clear line in the sand defining who’s for and against it. NetChoice, which represents a coalition of social media companies and internet platforms, was appalled. Its vice president and general counsel, Carl Szabo said in a statement, “This is an assault on free speech and the open internet by the State of New York. New York has created a way for the government to track what sites people visit and their online activity by forcing websites to censor all content unless visitors provide an ID to verify their age.”

Walking the Tight Rope

The literature clearly shows the correlation between social media algorithms and mental health. A 2024 interdisciplinary study published in the American Journal of Law and Medicine outlined how social media algorithms that push extreme content to vulnerable youth are linked to an increase in mental health problems for adolescents. The list includes, but is not limited to, poor body image, eating disorders, and suicidality.

So, it is safe to say that the discussion has moved from the impact of digital content platforms to how we can effectively protect youth without stripping them of their freedoms. If the government exercises too much algorithm control, it might end up hindering the teenager. Let me explain.

One thing that is good about any digital content platform’s algorithm is that it will introduce new things to your bubble. At times, this introduction breaks people out of their echo chambers. So, imagine a young, impressionable person staying on the same algorithmic feed, consuming the same stuff again and again. How do you reverse that, especially if the content on the loop promotes hate?

Final Thoughts

New York’s governor came down hard on digital content platforms. The U.S. government is doing right by its children. However, if it is not careful, it could jam them in echo chambers and stop them from developing proper digital literacy.

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