Klobuchar, Congress highlight harms of social media

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Natalie Kennedy Schuck has a 12-year-old daughter whose Instagram feed keeps her busy, as she scrolls through posts and watches stories of friends and famous people.

Schuck, of St. Paul, says her daughter’s regular in-person interactions with others come and go, but on Instagram, it’s the little things that stick. The social media platform was recently accused by a whistleblower of turning a blind eye to studies that show how unhealthy Instagram is to younger girls – even to the point of increasing thoughts of suicide.

"She’s just inundated and her perception of reality gets altered as a result," Schuck said during an online forum Thursday. "That something might have been little or niche, or just a one-off otherwise becomes a major part of her world view. That’s a huge problem."

Now, Congress is investigating ways it can further regulate the social media giants, like Facebook. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) says she hopes to bring the ideas of parents back to Washington, D.C., and an institution that she says has fallen behind in protecting children from harmful ads and algorithms.

Klobuchar said Thursday she wants to focus on tightening privacy laws or expanding protections within the 23-year-old Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, along with breaking up monopolies.

"For so long, the companies have been saying, ‘Trust us, we’ve got this,’" Klobuchar said. "You want to make sure kids are basically safe online, safe from algorithms that provide harmful content, safe from bad stuff, mean stuff that we know is prevalent online."

Facebook makes about $200 annually per user, Klobuchar said.

"Polarized content, mean content, intense content sells," Klobuchar told parents. "That basically gets upgraded on these platforms and kids are literally getting addicted to the platforms and we know that algorithms have fed into that."

In Mankato, Sarah Beiswanger, who has adopted a few kids from Sudan, said her children have faced anti-refugee content on social media. One of her sons has reported concerns with what he is seeing online and how it portrays refugees and immigrants.

"There are things that target him because of who he is," Beiswanger said.

But the social media platforms also play a role in everyday life in Mankato. From finding out more information about what’s happening at school to finding pictures of athletes during sporting events, Beiswanger said, as a parent who wants to stay engaged, it’s a daily battle.

"You can’t exactly get rid of it," she said.