Featuring Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, President Biden’s State of the Union takes on social media

In his very first State of the Union address, Joe Biden set his sights on Silicon Valley. The president announced his intention to “hold social media platforms accountable” by preventing them from showing ads targeted at children.

The State of the Union is an annual update on the situation of Americans, but it is also an opportunity for the president to make symbolic gestures that reveal his intentions. Frances Haugen attended last night’s speech as a personal guest of First Lady Jill Biden, and the president referenced the Facebook whistleblower as he launched into an attack on big tech.

“As Frances Haugen, who is here with us tonight, has shown, we need to hold social media platforms accountable for the national experiment they conduct on our children for profit,” Biden said. “It’s time to strengthen privacy protections, to ban targeted advertising to children, to demand that tech companies stop collecting personal data about our children.”

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Biden’s social media comments came 54 minutes into his hour-long speech:

Biden introduced this talking point while laying out the four issues on which he thinks he can garner bipartisan support. In addition to regulating social media, the president also wants to end the opioid crisis, support veterans and fight cancer.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that Democrats and Republicans want to reduce the creeping influence of social media on young viewers. Last month, a bipartisan bill called the Child Online Safety Act has been presented. KOSA, as it’s called, would require social media platforms to “provide minors with options to protect their information, turn off addictive product features, and opt out of algorithmic recommendations.” KOSA has many of the same goals as the KIDS Act, a Trump-era law introduced by COPPA author Ed Markey (D-MA).

In the world of social media regulation, there’s still a lot of work to do, but it’s important to recognize the changes that have already happened. In 2019, under pressure from the FTC, YouTube announced its plan to prevent targeted advertising on videos aimed at children. Two years later, YouTube went a step further by removing monetization for “overly commercial” kids’ videos.

As for Facebook, the social giant announced last year that it would no longer tailor ads to users under 18 based on their interests or web activity. This policy also applies to Instagram.

Note that, despite the crackdown on targeted advertisements aimed at minors, these platforms still serve advertisements aimed at children. There is an entire industry based on advertising on family-friendly videos; if the president gets his way, those ads will be subject to additional levels of scrutiny.

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