Teens are more protected on social media sites in many other parts of the world than they are in the US, from what they see to the data that’s collected about them.
In the US, federal legislation around these issues often moves slowly. In contrast, the European Union is changing the way kids experience the Internet. Other countries are taking notice as well.
The pace at which laws are evolving overseas comes at a time when US lawmakers and parents are worrying more about the dangers of social media, and yet advocates say very little has been done in the US to make it safer for young people.
Here’s a closer look at how child safety is regulated on social media platforms in other parts of the world.
Last summer, the world’s largest tech companies – including Meta, TikTok, Snapchat and Apple – were ordered to comply with a new European law called the Digital Services Act.
Perhaps one of the biggest changes in the EU for children, as a result of the law, is that platforms are forbidden from targeting them with personalized advertising.
The bigger the company, the more protections it will need to put in place.
Companies also send reminders to teens to take breaks and disable autoplay (similar to what’s been introduced in the US).
But Big Tech companies still haven’t publicly said what they’re doing to comply with these new EU rules, according to Fernando Hortal Foronda, digital policy officer at the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC).
“It will take a couple of years until the first round of the audits of social media companies mandated in the DSA are published,” he said. “But their measures fall short of restricting algorithmic recommendations, which are often seen as one of the main causes of harm to the mental well-being of minors.”
Tech companies have faced criticism for years that their algorithms can send children down harmful rabbit holes online, such as for eating disorder content that can encourage unhealthy behaviors.
In November, the European Commission said it sent requests to various social media companies demanding more information about the steps they’re taking.
In the US, it’s very hard to sue social media platforms because of a 28-year-old federal law called “Section 230,” which holds that tech companies cannot be held liable for the content that users post to their platforms.
However, under the EU’s Digital Service Act, companies can be sued for up to 6% of their worldwide revenues if they violate the law.
“Imagined in the context of the largest platforms, this is a substantial fine,” said Asha Allen, the program director for the Centre of Democracy and Technology Europe.
The European Commission and national regulators can also take companies to the Court of Justice of the European Union for infringements where companies have the right to reply and appeal.
Efforts in China, India and beyond
Other governments have moved to protect kids online, too.
China, for example, recently rolled out its Cybersecurity Law and Minor Protection Law, which offers restrictions on what can be shown to kids on the internet and imposes time limits on daily usage of online services. The law also requires schools and families to teach youth how to use the internet safely and how to prevent addiction.
At the same time, however, China’s government also largely blocks access to social media platforms as part of its efforts to monitor and censor the internet.
Meanwhile, India’s Personal Data Protection Bill (PDPB) – which was passed last summer – requires parents to consent to the collection of their child’s data and bans targeted advertising to minors.
And in Brazil, a data protection law includes special protections for children’s data, including consent to share personal data.
’s Brian Fung and Clare Duffy contributed to this report