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N.Y. Gov. Hochul takes up the cause of protecting children online


Another state is making a bid at regulating the global business of the internet. Texas and Florida made an effort now before the Supreme Court to force social media companies to carry content they object to. Now New York State is moving to legislate social media for kids. The U.S. Surgeon General last year issued a warning about the mental health risks of social media for kids, and now Governor Kathy Hochul is leading a push to limit the use of social media algorithms on kids in New York.

KATHY HOCHUL: Our first bill is called the SAFE for Kids Act, which will restrict these addictive features on social media, tell the companies that they have a responsibility to monitor the content - you're not able to just keep sending the content. It has to be welcomed by the young people. They have to want this - and to find other ways to get them information. We're not banning young people from social media, not at all. We're simply saying that they should not be bombarded with these feeds that can be sorted a different way and not in a way that is so negative for them.

INSKEEP: I'm trying to figure out how that works in practice. If you pick something like Instagram, which I'm on - I mean, I get a bunch of things from people that I follow. There's a particular algorithm. It may also suggest things for me to look at. What would you force Instagram to change if they're going to do business in New York state?

HOCHUL: For young people, instead of this algorithmic feed, minors would receive a feed where updates from other users they follow are sorted chronologically or in some other way that's not relying on their personal information - that it's just a different group of individuals under age 18, that you cannot use the normal business practice of continuing to send information that is unsolicited.

INSKEEP: And how do you determine that it is a young person under a certain age who is using the phone at that point?

HOCHUL: Well, that's exactly what we're focused on because it's easy to evade. But, you know, for example, young people are not able to go to online gambling sites. There are ways to restrict based on not just age but other information that I think is essential - that this information be provided, that we know who the young people are, that the companies know who they are, and they'll be held responsible if they continue the practices that they're on right now.

INSKEEP: Does somebody have to provide an ID?

HOCHUL: We're working on exactly how we would make that happen.

INSKEEP: I think this is a point of debate, though, isn't it? When you begin saying, I need an ID requirement, the people who object are not necessarily parents of kids, but other people who will say, I want to be on the internet and doing what I'm doing, and I don't want to have to show my ID because that's really intrusive for me.

HOCHUL: I'm talking about protecting young people, teenagers who should not be subjected to information that is negative, that is having a detrimental effect on their mental health, and we have to figure out a way. And we're smart enough to do this, and I know that companies know how to do this. Some of them are being cooperative, and others just want to continue their business practice because it's about commercial profit and gain for them, and they should not be collecting and selling personal information from young people.

INSKEEP: Do companies, when you talk with them, raise another objection - that they're a global business, they're a national business, and it is difficult for them if every single state has its own particular regulations?

HOCHUL: Well, I would say this - it does call for a federal response. That's the way I believe that this should occur. But in the absence of this level of responsibility - if you talk to the CEOs of these companies, they know what they're doing. They don't let their own children engage in these social media sites until they're much older, so why is everyone else having to be subjected to this? And they know how to stop this, so we're saying, come to the table. Work with us.

You know, we're not hostile to tech here in the state of New York. We are very pro tech. And social media has an incredible side that is very positive. I'm talking about the fact that I, as the leader of this state, cannot ignore the signs of distress and trauma among our young people, and it's definitely correlated to what is happening with these social media feeds. And we have to do something and not just say, well, it's too hard to do, therefore, we won't.

INSKEEP: Governor Kathy Hochul of New York, it's always a pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much.

HOCHUL: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.