As Facebook executives face questions from senators about efforts to market their products to children and the impact they can have, U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin is sponsoring a bill that would fund research into the effects of technology on children and public health.
Raskin (D-Md.-8th) is among the sponsors of the Children and Media Research Advancement Act, which would authorize the National Institutes of Health to conduct comprehensive research on technology and media’s effects on the cognitive, physical and socio-emotional development of children, from infants to adolescents.
“I think we’ve entered a brave new world of children using technology and social media,” Raskin, who represents a broad swath of Frederick County, said in an interview with the News-Post Tuesday.
The bill would provide $15 million for fiscal years 2022-24 and $25 million each in fiscal years 2025 and 2026.
The average child receives their own smartphone around the age of 10, and 98 percent of children under the age of 8 use mobile devices at home, according to statistics provided by Raskin’s office in support of the bill. The second number is up from 50 percent in 2011.
Half of teenagers say they feel “addicted” to their phones, and children who heavily use social media and technology are 56 percent more likely to say they’re unhappy, with 27 percent more likely to be depressed and 35 percent more likely to have a risk factor for suicide, according to the information.
Social media platforms spend a lot of time and money figuring out how to manipulate children, especially teens, Raskin said.
The impacts are especially severe with topics such as body image, social acceptance and dating, the congressman added.
Raskin and Republican Rep. Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio are introducing the bill in the House, and Democratic Sens. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, Brian Schatz of Hawaii, and Michael Bennett of Colorado — along with Republicans Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Roy Blunt of Missouri and Susan Collins of Maine — are leading the charge in the Senate.
“Today, kids’ heads are often buried in their glowing devices, while parents are left in the dark about the impacts of that technology,” Markey said in a statement to the News-Post. “We must be clear-eyed about all of the implications of children’s media use, and our CAMRA Act will help produce research to shed light on the cognitive, physical, and socio-emotional impacts of technology on kids.”
Markey added, “We cannot rely on leaked Facebook documents to discover the negative mental health impacts of these platforms and technologies on our children and teens.”
Last week, Markey took part in a hearing by the Senate consumer protection subcommittee in which senators questioned Facebook’s global head of safety, Antigone Davis, about what the company knew about its Instagram app’s impact on teens’ self-image.
“Despite these deeply troubling findings from one tech titan’s internal research, we have scarce independent and systematic data about other important consequences of children’s use of technology and media,” Raskin and Gonzalez wrote in a letter to colleagues seeking their support for the bill.
Not all the findings of the study are expected to be negative, Raskin said.
But the funding is needed because there isn’t good, comprehensive research on the impacts of technology.
“We just don’t know. So we’re kind of stumbling around in the dark,” he said.
Follow Ryan Marshall on Twitter: @RMarshallFNP