How teenagers feel about a proposed crackdown on social media

Students are telling us what they think about a proposed crackdown on social media.

13Investigates told you about two new bills that could change the way kids and teens scroll through their phone screens. A group of teens said the legislation needs another look.

Social media and the impact on teens

Students are telling us what they think about a proposed crackdown on social media.

The six teenagers are juniors and seniors at Shaker High School. They all know each other through classes, clubs, or mutual friends.

13Investigates asked them to take part in a roundtable discussion and share their perspectives on social media.

The first question asked was: who has social media? All but one raised their hands.

“I deleted it literally three days ago,” said Amanda Palmar, a senior at Shaker High School. “Because, if I’m being honest, college applications. It’s real. All the stress. It’s getting to me. Getting it done was something I was not going to do until I deleted social media.”

Palmar is not the only one in the group to have deleted at least one social media account at one point. Palmar’s answer started a broader conversation about how social media is addicting.

“When I deleted TikTok, my hands were shaking for months. Every time I went to open my phone, I would click on where it was. It was so addicting,” said senior Troy Serao. “I was spending 14 hours a day on my phone. I don’t even know how I was doing that. I don’t even know when I was sleeping, but I was like, ‘I need to stop.'”

“It was hard to find something else to do. I’m so addicted. Definitely, it’s a comfort. It’s something you always go back to. It’s hard to stop that immediately,” senior Julia Repko said.

13Investigates asked the group about two bills that are being supported by Gov. Kathy Hochul. The legislation would not let online platforms collect and share children’s personal information.

“I think it’s so stupid they can get all of our information and sell our information. Just think about it, to do this interview (with NewsChannel 13), your parent had to sign a form. … Our parents are never signing that for these social media companies, and they’re getting way more than just our name and our grade,” Serao said.

The legislation would also restrict minors from accessing addictive algorithm-based feeds unless they have parental consent.

Instead, users under 18 will have a default feed from users they already follow.

“I feel like the thing a lot of us use social media for is primarily keeping in touch with our friends. If we just have the follow pages, then we can still see our friend’s content, and we won’t be exposed to the kind of toxic and negative side with the personalized ‘for you’ content. That has the opportunity to show you something super horrible for you, and then you get sucked in, and you keep on seeing it,” said Suhana Kiran, a junior at the high school.

“If we just limit it to the people we follow, and we know, first of all, it just eliminates random strangers,” said junior Pranjal Yadav. “Especially on TikTok, I feel that a lot of brands and other creators profit off of us. They sell us a product, and you’re in a wormhole, and you just keep seeing that product over and over again. You just convince yourself, ‘Oh maybe this will fix all my problems!’ or something. If you just limit that, I think it would be good.”

“Even if that aspect of it got taken away, I think that would do almost all good. To take away the advertising aspect would be huge,” said junior Keira Quinn.

When Hochul announced the proposed legislation in October, she cited this U.S. Surgeon General report. It sounds the alarm against social media use for kids and teens, and how it can negatively impact mental health.

13Investigates asked the group if social media has affected their mental health.

“There was a time when I would cry when I was seeing my friends hanging out, and I was not with them. They’re posting on their stories or something like that. That would get so deep to me. That would make me so upset,” Repko said.

Kiran said she was following what she called a “very bad” part of Twitter about people with eating disorders.

“A lot of the people on there are pro-eating disorders. They’ll encourage that sort of behavior. I was on there for a long time. Maybe like two years? I saw horribly disgusting stuff on there … even when I felt like I was recovering from my eating disorder, I would still be super addicted to that part of Twitter. It traps you in.”

13 Investigates also asked the group what their overall thoughts on the bills were.

“I think they need to be revised a little bit, but I do think the idea behind them is completely correct and valid,” Yadav said.

“I think it loses some nuance with online communities and the fact that social media is just addictive algorithms. That’s a big part of Instagram and TikTok and Twitter, but that’s not the whole story. I think that’s important because there are people who are communicating through those platforms and are making meaningful relationships that do need to reach each other as kids. Especially during the pandemic, that community was really, really important for a lot of people and in ways did help some people’s mental health,” Quinn said.

“It’s super great that the state is trying to do this, but a tiered approach might be better than just going cold turkey. I feel like that’s giving a lot of power away from teens. We’re trying to find ourselves. We’re trying to discover ourselves in an adult world and by the state taking that away, it’s taking away that opportunity for us,” Serao said.