OPINION | Regulating social media on the consumer end won’t solve any problems

I made my first Instagram account when I was a third grader on vacation with my older cousins. I was fascinated by the fun filters and felt the rush of every like I got on my posts.

But when I returned home, my mom made me delete my account. She told me it was an “uncontrolled environment” not suitable for someone my age.

In sixth grade, I made a Snapchat account. Once again, my mom caught a yellow notification flash on my phone, and she warned me every photo I took would be kept somewhere forever, even after they expired.

I didn’t understand why I needed to be afraid. I knew not to meet a stranger in person or make friends with people I didn’t know. I was only on social media to connect with my friends anyway.

It wasn’t my fault that social media scared my mom, nor was it hers. Now, after learning more about social media through my media studies classes, I understand that algorithms operate in silence to hook users. Because social media companies are not regulated the same way radio or TV is, many big tech companies collect an absurd amount of data, unbeknownst to users.

Lately, politicians have been trying to keep social media out of vulnerable hands. In March, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law that prohibits popular social media sites like Snapchat, TikTok and Instagram from giving accounts to anyone under age 14. Parental consent is now required for any 14 or 15-year-olds to obtain accounts on social media because of social media’s “mental health and safety risks.”

President Biden signed a bill on April 24 that requires TikTok parent company ByteDance to sell the popular platform within 12 months. If ByteDance — a Chinese service — doesn’t sell to an American company by April 2025, the app will be banned in the United States.

American lawmakers argue that TikTok is a threat to United States’ security because it is owned by a company in a communist country. Senator Pete Ricketts argued for TikTok’s banning because it spreads “pro-Palestinian and pro-Hamas hashtags” and alleged that this content is being circulated by the Chinese Communist Party.

These policies won’t be beneficial in the long-term. Banning social media for young people because social media has “mental health and safety risks” is punishing kids for social media’s poor regulation.

It’s just like my mom telling me I had to leave social media to avoid social media’s consequences, when all I wanted to do was share pictures with my friends. Why punish users for a lack of policy that isn’t their fault? These social media laws should be focusing on how sites can be made safer, because they surely are not going away.

Banning TikTok because of its “propaganda” is an excuse that blocks people from spreading information. Yes, social media can promote false narratives and misinformation, but laws should be introducing ways to regulate information accuracy, like fact checkers, instead of removing users’ abilities to connect.

Taking TikTok away will not prevent “propaganda” from spreading on other sites. Misinformation is a problem on Facebook and Instagram, both owned by Meta, an American company.

Selling TikTok to an American company won’t prevent any data spying either. Social media companies created in the United States are collecting loads of personal data, too, and there are no laws that would prevent propaganda from spreading on the platform.

According to The New York Times, Facebook collects basic age and gender-identity data, and tracks post engagement (such as what posts users liked) to determine complex details about its users, including relationship status and personal interests. Facebook’s location services can determine who lives in the same home, even if those users are not connected on Facebook. The “People You May Know” feature uses everything from contacts to location data to recommend possible friends.

That level of data collection infringes on users’ privacy in any country. Whether it’s Meta or ByteDance, I do not want social media sites to know that much about me.

It’s true that social media can take a serious toll on mental health. In high school, I bought likes, I cried when people disapproved of my posts and I had to change accounts multiple times to break away from the leash. But that wasn’t my fault, and I shouldn’t have had to feel like it was. No one should.

Lawmakers need to focus on restricting what data sites can collect and limiting the information algorithms collect instead of taking away social media. Social media has so much potential for connection and innovation, and deleting it isn’t the answer.

Photo courtesy of Tech.co.