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Amabile: Teens and parents deserve education to prevent harms of social media

Feb 17, 2024

This story was originally posted in the Daily Camera here.

It’s happened to us all at one point or another. You googled a random kitchen gadget, clicked on a clothing ad or read an online article about a pending “snowmageddon” and paid the algorithmic price. Kitchen gadgets, clothing ads and articles about the weather suddenly inundate your feed. This is obviously annoying and, I might add, intrusive. Yet, we are capable of discerning between the risks and rewards of social media and know why our feeds promote the content that they do. But for teens whose brains are at a crucial developmental stage, the risks of this kind of targeting are dangerous. 

Clicks, likes or even hovering on a post for too long transforms a child’s social media feed, leading them astray and into a perpetual feed of negative and dark content. Content that promotes bulimia, self-harm, bullying and violence. These are the dangers teens encounter and endure on social media platforms. They are a generation who have grown up with social media, and they don’t know a world without it. But we’ve never provided the support and guidance they need to use social media safely. 

I, alongside my Republican colleague Rep. Rose Pugliese, have introduced HB24-1136 to tackle this issue and give our kids the information they deserve to make informed choices about healthy social media use. This bipartisan bill is an evidence-based and commonsense approach to mitigating these horrible outcomes. The foundation of HB24-1136 is rooted in a simple concept: When people have access to information, they make informed choices. First, the bill will create a first-ever information and resource bank dedicated to educating Coloradans about safe and healthy social media use. It will be available to teens, parents, teachers and anyone who wants to learn how to prevent the negative side effects of social media. 

Second, the bill ensures information is provided directly to teens while they use various platforms. When someone ages 13 to 17 reaches a level of unhealthy social media use, they will see a popup label alerting them that their usage is becoming problematic. The social media companies themselves have funded research that proved in-app disruptions, like popup labels, are successful at getting youth to stop scrolling. A lot of social media platforms already allow for popup labels, but it’s not uniform, and it’s certainly not the standard.

While social media platforms have existed for more than 20 years, the research is burgeoning, and it’s clearly linking problematic social media use with negative mental health outcomes. The longer teens spend scrolling, it increases their chances of anxiety, depression and emotional distress. A quarter of teens report spending more than 4.5 hours per day on social media, and 1 in 6 say they use TikTok and YouTube almost constantly. These high levels of usage are dangerous, and teens need to have access to tools that will help them make healthier choices. 

Another alarming aspect of social media is that the platform features are designed to be addictive. Scrolling can cause your brain to emit dopamine when you view funny or exciting content. But the brain then continues to want the same dopamine hits, which causes teens to scroll for hours. This is fittingly known as the “doom scroll.” It’s fitting because nothing good comes when you scroll for that long. New research is comparing how substance use and gambling addictions change the brain to how social media is changing the brains of teens.

This bill will create a standard so teens and parents do not have to continue navigating these highly addictive and complex social media platforms on their own. This is a public health problem that warrants a public health response. HB24-1136 is the foundation we need to begin tackling this public health threat.

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