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March 23, 2023


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Lawmakers target major social media platforms in new bill intended to protect young users

Lawmakers target major social media platforms in new bill intended to protect young users

iStock.com/Charday Penn

Lawmakers are targeting social media platforms like TikTok and Snapchat in a new bill aiming to protect young people from the dangers posed by such platforms.

The bipartisan bill, introduced by Representatives Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Penn.)., would modify the FBI’s uniform crime reporting program to include information about social media platforms involved in criminal offenses.

The data could help investigators better understand how social media affects crime and which platforms put young people at the greatest risk for exposure to privacy infringement.

The bill, known as the Combating Harmful Actions with Transparency on Social Act (CHATS Act), has received full support from the National Fraternal Order of Police.

Legislators say the bill’s primary goal is to protect children from the data-sharing dangers posed by TikTok, which is owned by Chinese-parent company ByteDance, and to address the national security issues presented by such a situation.

Lawmakers hope the bill will put pressure on the company to be more transparent with their tracking of user data, which can include children’s personal information.

They also hope to hold other social media platforms, such as Instagram and Snapchat, accountable for users’ ties to criminal activity and drug dealing.

“It really is the Wild West, and our children are the natives of the social media landscape,” said Dr. Laura Berman, whose son died from fentanyl poisoning in 2021 after purchasing drugs laced with the synthetic opioid on Snapchat.

Fitzpatrick said the bill is an “all-hands-on-deck” attempt to address privacy and security issues inherent in social media apps.

Fitzpatrick and Gottheimer also sent a letter to TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, in which they listed their privacy concerns for Americans who use the video-sharing app.

Data gathered by TikTok “can not only be used to detect the travel and financial habits of Americans, but it could yield sensitive information about their relationships, behaviors, preferences and vulnerabilities,” the letter wrote. The letter added that if such data was shared with foreign countries, it would be a “vital national security risk.”

Dr. Berman and her husband Samuel Chapman have been advocating for greater cooperation between social media companies and law enforcement following the death of their son when police said Snapchat could not reveal the identity of the user who sold their son the drugs.

“I believe that the CHATS bill, if passed into law, will hold lawmakers and police accountable and make it important for the CEOs of these platforms … [who] treat it like a PR issue,” Chapman said.

Berman pointed out that social media platforms and drugs entering the country both have ties to China, with TikTok being a Chinese company and with Chinese drug manufacturers using Mexican drug cartels to smuggle fentanyl across the southern border.

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