How Can Social Media Be Made Safer For Children?


According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, “Although using social media can come with many benefits, there are also some challenges.” For children and teens, these challenges often include those related to mental health, psychological and physical development, and extortion and exploitation. These challenges have grown in recent years as each new generation of American children are digital natives, or those who have been “born after the widespread adoption of digital technology” (Techopedia). While policymakers, parents, and business leaders agree that children should be safe online and as they use social media, ongoing debate surrounds how to combat the challenges and who should be held responsible.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (1996), or the 26 words that created the internet, “embodies that principle that we should all be responsible for our own actions and statements online, but generally not those of others” (Electronic Frontier Foundation). The law prevents most lawsuits against services that are based on what others say. The 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule, or COPPA, “imposes certain requirements on operators of websites or online services directed to children under 13 years of age, and on operators of other websites or online services that have actual knowledge that they are collecting personal information online from a child under 13 years of age” (Federal Trade Commission). And the Amy, Vicky, and Andy Child Pornography Victim Assistance Act of 2018 revised the criminal code to provide for increased restitution to victims of child pornography.

The three preceding pieces of legislation are just a portion of the regulatory framework that makes up today’s social media landscape. Additional legislative proposals such as the EARN It Act “would limit the immunity of providers of interactive computer services in federal lawsuits, expand reporting requirements on such providers, and establish the National Commission on Online Child Sexual Exploitation Prevention” (Congressional Budget Office). And the Kids Online Safety Act would implement new regulations to protect minors on the internet.

As Congress evaluates the path forward, it is time for your students to consider the same issue. This deliberation includes fourteen video clips, two pieces of legislation, and several educational activities to guide students through a review of the current legislative framework, the varied perspectives regarding the issue, and the potential ways forward. After a careful review of multiple perspectives, students will determine which actions should be prioritized to improve child safety on social media and be presented with several optional extensions to take an active role in the debate.

Objectives and Outcomes

  • Students will be able to describe key vocabulary terms and concepts associated with the debate surrounding child safety on social media.

  • Students will be able to identify and explain aspects of the debate of which actions should be used to improve child safety on social media, including those related to teens’ needs, product design, reporting processes, and industry-wide regulation.

  • Students will be able to evaluate arguments related to proposed actions on the issue and formulate an opinion on this question.