US government seeks public input on internet risks for children

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) wants to understand the potential dangers and how to mitigate them.

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Through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the US federal government is soliciting public comments on the risks and best practices associated with the internet usage of children and teenagers. This call for comments comes after the White House pledged to allocate more resources and efforts toward understanding how internet access impacts young people and what actions should be taken.

The request for public comments urges parents, educators, caregivers, technologists, advertisers, and online creators to participate by sharing their insights and concerns. To provide comments, individuals can visit the website and search for ‘NTIA-2023-008’ to choose the ‘comment now’ option. The conversations surrounding the well-being of children and teenagers online are of great importance to politicians from all sides. However, lawmakers have been hesitant to rally around specific demands, and tech companies have opposed state and federal measures that would require safety and privacy regulations for young people online.

The US Surgeon General has previously released an advisory that links social media use to poor mental health. However, research on the effects of internet use on mental health for children and teenagers presents a contradictory picture. On one hand, the internet provides young people access to friends, information, and skills that can improve their mental well-being. On the other hand, issues such as online bullying, social comparison, and predation expose some vulnerable children to hardships and trauma.

Why does it matter?

Public outreach as a solution may inform the development of voluntary guidelines for technology companies or even new regulations. However, advocacy groups argue that without government action, tech companies are unlikely to implement the changes necessary to protect young people. They believe that voluntary industry guidelines are insufficient to shield children from the severe harm caused by social media. Thus, the involvement of the regulatory agency, the Federal Trade Commission, is welcomed.