WASHINGTON, D.C. — Since children don’t vote, they often need adults to champion their cause.
That’s true in a lot of ways, but one of those ways that’s been getting a lot of attention as of late is communications technology.
The system that’s in place now is not working as it was meant to, and some elected officials are trying to fix that.
One of those is Sen. Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts. He has been at the front lines of the issue for a generation.
More than 30 years ago, Markey, then a member of the House, proposed a children’s TV bill that put limits on commercial time in a program hour — 10.5 minutes for weekend shows, 12 minutes for weekdays — and required that the Federal Communications Commission consider both program service and the broadcaster’s attention to the needs of children when licenses are being renewed.
The bill passed both houses of Congress but was vetoed by President Ronald Reagan, who said it was an infringement of broadcasters’ First Amendment rights.
It finally came to fruition with the Children’s Television Act of 1990, which included not only the commercial time limits but also ushered in the “E/I” designation for educational or informational programming aimed at young audiences, ordering the FCC to put regulations in place.
Each broadcast station is required to program three hours each week during the time children are typically in front of the TV — so no getting away with airing shows like that between 2 and 5 a.m. on Tuesday morning, or designating “The Flintstones” as E/I.
In 1993, Markey introduced a bill that would institute a voluntary, movie industry-style ratings system for TV, focusing strictly on violence. Before the decade was over, the TV Parental Guidelines had been established, notifying viewers not only of violent content, but also language and sexual situations. Further, some network promos for their other shows will add at the end, “Parental discretion advised.”
Markey has long established his credentials as a congressional watchdog — rather than a lapdog — on the subject of children and media. That is what makes his latest proposals more noteworthy.
In April, Markey introduced the Kids Internet Design and Safety Act. It would apply some aspects of children’s television regulation to the online world. It has six objectives:
— “Stop manipulative and damaging design features that keep kids glued to the screen.”
— “Limit marketing and commercialization; create rules to limit the method and the content of ads that appear in front of kids.”
— “Prevent the amplification of harmful content; enshrine rules to address the use of algorithms that push extreme content in front of kids.”
— “Require platforms to provide parents with clear guidance on kid-healthy content.”
— “Create incentives for positive content creation.”
— “Require transparency and strong enforcement; designate the Federal Trade Commission to enforce the law.”
In March, Markey went across the aisle and jointly sponsored with Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, a bill that would provide more internet protection for minors and give parents the chance to erase their kids’ online impulses.
The bill would be an update of the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act — which Markey authored and which became law in 1998.
While COPPA protects children under age 13, the new bill expands the age range. It would prohibit the collection of personal and location information from anyone under 13 without parental consent, and from anyone under 16 without the user’s consent. It would also create an “eraser button” that parents could use to delete online information about their children. It also contains a “Digital Marketing Bill of Rights for Minors” to further limit data collection. It would give the FTC teeth in enforcing the law, establishing within it a Youth Privacy and Marketing Division.
In late January, Markey called on Facebook to stop offering money to teens for their personal information. “It is inherently manipulative to offer teens money in exchange for their personal information when younger users don’t have a clear understanding how much data they’re handing over and how sensitive it is,” Markey said.
The day before those comments, Markey teamed with Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, in a joint letter to Facebook charging the social media behemoth with “knowingly” trying to get kids to spend their parents’ money on in-app purchases those parents didn’t know about — an accusation Facebook denied.
It should be clear to parents that Markey, Hawley and Blumenthal are in their corner. Now, all they need is 48 more like them in the Senate to actually pass the legislation.
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