top of page

LGBTQ+ Youth: Social Media Legislation and Civil Rights

Authored by Elsa Leichty

Art by Joyce Wang


The effects of social media on young people’s mental health have long been debated. Nearly 5 billion people globally use social media, and the number is growing exponentially [1]. As a result, social media usage and adolescent mental well-being captured the attention of lawmakers. Now, the topic is steadily evolving into a matter of paramount concern for policymakers. This article will discuss the multi-faceted dimensions of governmental restriction on social media platforms, focusing on the civil rights implications for LGBTQ+ teenagers associated with parental and technological controls on social media. 


Teenagers are at high risk for mental health challenges which may be exacerbated by social media. However, it is important to consider both the positive and negative consequences of social media on adolescent health. Alexey Makarin, an assistant professor at MIT Sloan explains the challenge of determining whether social media contributes more positively or negatively to mental health stating: “There may be hundreds of papers that present correlations between social media and well-being...but we still know very little about which way the effect runs.” Many arguments against social media stem from mental health data via the Centers for Disease Control such as the increased suicide rate among 10-24 year olds which stayed fairly constant from 2000 to 2008, but increased by a whopping 57% between 2007 and 2017. Social media use also skyrocketed during this time [2]. The potential increase in mental health disorders among young adults associated with social media is highly important, but the positive effects of social media for teenagers must also be weighed. 


Social media’s ability to unite people is powerful. Social media networks offer a plethora of communities for individuals to connect to other users with similar identities and experiences. Additionally, platforms like Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and Twitter foster visibility and representation of often marginalized groups such as LGBTQ+ individuals by facilitating spaces for advocacy and activism. Additionally, users can promote useful information and resources such as support, counseling, and hotlines. LGBTQ+ individuals are at an elevated risk for poor mental health and well-being; some studies, however, demonstrate how social media may alleviate challenges these individuals face. Notably, one Pub Med study found that “Facebook was considered a vital support for those with mental health concerns including suicidal ideation…LGBTQ adolescents formed friendships, romantic relationships and gained information on sex, relationships, and sexual health from these groups” [3]. It is critical to examine two more angles of this relationship. First, platforms like Instagram and Twitter are commonly used to access LGBTQ+ content due to “ease of anonymity.” Second, social media is a vital source of health and sexuality information for young LGBTQ+ individuals [4]. Anonymity and access to sexual health information are imperative for many young individuals, especially those living in unsupportive or potentially unsafe households. However, there are legislative changes aiming to restrict over-exposure to social media. However, this legislation may be counterproductive by preventing adolescents from accessing necessary health information and instead exacerbate mental health issues.


The Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) is the primary piece of legislation addressing social media and teen mental health. Senators Marsha Blackburn and Richard Blumenthal are heading the bill, which aims to “provide young people and parents with the tools, safeguards, and transparency they need to protect against online harms'' and “gives parents new controls to help support their children and identify harmful behaviors'' [5]. One particularly alarming facet of the bill is its likelihood to inadvertently over-censor information with new content restrictions. One co-sponsor, Bill Cotton, states that KOSA will put “parents back in control of what kids experience online” by arming guardians with the ability to filter their child’s social media content. Multiple digital advocacy groups including Common Sense Media, Fairplay for Kids, and the Center for the Digital Democracy, are concerned about the bill’s approach. The organizations claim that “the bill is burdensome to parents, creates unrealistic bans, and could be harmful to kids living in unhealthy situations'' by cutting off access to important resources and community for “vulnerable minors'' [6].


More than 90 organizations including tech companies, digital rights advocates, civil rights groups, and legal experts are speaking out against KOSA. Critics are concerned the bill’s content filtering provision, which includes a vague “duty of care” for platforms to monitor content, will disproportionately impact information available on topics like “LGBTQ+ issues, drug addiction, eating disorders, mental health issues, or escape from abusive situations” [6].  It is difficult to anticipate exactly how the bill will alter social media algorithms, but moderating such sensitive and important topics have far-reaching consequences on adolescent social awareness, knowledge, and mental health. More vigorous research, along with information uncovered during the 2023 META lawsuits on child social media addiction, will help determine social media’s effect on mental health [7]. Simultaneously, bills concerning social media regulation will make headway through the legislative branch. It is critical for Americans to understand how teenage civil liberties may be infringed upon by bills like KOSA, which restrict social media access, so they can vote to protect young individuals. Still, the mental health crisis must be addressed. Other legislative options must be considered to hold social media platforms directly, and legally accountable for their intentionally addictive algorithms.


References

  1. Belle Wong, J. D. (2023, August 7). Top social media statistics and trends of 2023. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/advisor/business/social-media-statistics/ 

  2. Walsh, D. (2022, September 14). Study: Social media use linked to decline in mental health. MIT Sloan. https://mitsloan.mit.edu/ideas-made-to-matter/study-social-media-use-linked-to-decline-mental-health 

  3. Berger, M. N., Taba, M., Marino, J. L., Lim, M. S. C., Cooper, S. C., Lewis, L., Albury, K., Chung, K. S. K., Bateson, D., & Skinner, S. R. (2021). Social media's role in support networks among LGBTQ adolescents: a qualitative study. Sexual health, 18(5), 421–431. https://doi.org/10.1071/SH21110

  4.  Berger, M. N., Taba, M., Marino, J. L., Lim, M. S. C., & Skinner, S. R. (2022). Social Media Use and Health and Well-being of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Youth: Systematic Review. Journal of medical Internet research, 24(9), e38449. https://doi.org/10.2196/38449

  5. Blackburn, Blumenthal Introduce Bipartisan Kids Online Safety Act. U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. (2023, November 2). https://www.blackburn.senate.gov/2023/5/blackburn-blumenthal-introduce-bipartisan-kids-online-safety-act#:~:text=The%20Kids%20Online%20Safety%20Act%3A,the%20strongest%20settings%20by%20default 

  6. Jones, D. (2023, April 28). Kids under 13 would be barred from social media under bipartisan Senate bill. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2023/04/28/1172098173/social-media-kids-senate-bill 

  7. Kang, C., & Singer, N. (2023, October 24). Meta accused by states of using features to lure children to Instagram and facebook. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/10/24/technology/states-lawsuit-children-instagram-facebook.html

33 views0 comments

Comentarios


bottom of page