U.S. Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, is urging social media executives to take steps to protect underage users on platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.

On Thursday, Curtis and Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Florida, wrote letters to Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook and owner of Instagram, Snap Inc. CEO Evan Spiegel and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki expressing concern about the use of the applications and platforms by children under 13, which the congressmen called “a clear violation of your terms of service.”

“The powerful influence your platform has warrants decisive action that protects against inappropriate content reaching our most impressionable populations, and in particular, children who do not yet have the capacity to understand this content without parental guidance,” Curtis and Bilirakis wrote in three separate letters.

Curtis and Bilirakis praised the social media platforms for enhancing “the ability to communicate and remain connected to one another,” but noted that the platforms also come with “harms.”

“Congress should remain committed to laying the foundations for companies like yours and all other future industry leaders to succeed here in the United States,” they wrote. “However, that ideal must be weighed against the harms our children may be exposed to online.”

The congressmen went on to say that these “landmark technological advancements come at some cost to society,” noting that “increased exposure to inappropriate or offensive content has specifically been linked to social media platforms and our children are most impacted by these negative experiences.”

“While it is easy to say this is the responsibility of parents to police, Big Tech currently does not offer the transparency required to ensure parents have the information they need to make informed decisions,” they wrote. “We also know children are only a few clicks away from using your websites on any phone or computer and believe you bear responsibility to provide a safe platform for them.”

The concerns raised by the congressmen follow a May report by the nonprofit Thorn that found that more than 40% of children under 13 use Facebook, TikTok, Snapchat and other social media platforms.

The report also found that minors “are having online sexual interactions with both peers and individuals they believe to be adults at concerningly similar rates” and that “neither blocking nor reporting sufficiently protect minors from continued harassment by another user on the platform.”

Curtis and Bilirakis requested that the social media executives respond to a number of questions by July 16, including what steps they take “to identify an underage user that is violating your terms of services” and what steps they take or are planning to take “to ensure underage users cannot re-register under another false identification after you determined such users violated your terms of serv(ice).”

The congressmen also asked what steps the social media executives plan to take “to protect younger users against cyber-bullying and sexually offensive content” and what steps they believe Congress should take “to help protect our children from offensive content on your platform and from foreign adversaries using your sites to influence American society.”

Other Utah lawmakers have raised concerns about children on social media. In November 2019, then-Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, introduced a resolution calling for tech companies to do more to protect minors from inappropriate content on digital apps.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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