Minnesota Pushing Bill That Says Websites Can No Longer Be Useful For Teenagers
from the i-mean-what-is-going-on-here dept
The various “for the children” moral panic bills about the internet are getting dumber. Over in Minnesota, the legislature has moved forward with a truly stupid bill, which the legislature’s own website says could make the state “a national leader in putting new guardrails on social media platforms.” The bill is pretty simple — it says that any social media platform with more than 1 million account holders (and operating in Minnesota) cannot use an algorithm to recommend content to users under the age of 18.
Prohibitions; social media algorithm. (a) A social media platform with more than 1,000,000 account holders operating in Minnesota is prohibited from using a social media algorithm to target user-created content at an account holder under the age of 18.
(b) The operator of a social media platform is liable to an individual account holder who received user-created content through a social media algorithm while the individual account holder was under the age of 18 if the operator of a social media platform knew or had reason to know that the individual account holder was under the age of 18. A social media operator subject to this paragraph is liable to the account holder for (1) any regular orspecial damages, (2) a statutory penalty of $1,000 for each violation of this section, and (3) any other penalties available under law.
So, um, why? I mean, I get that for computer illiterate people the word “algorithm” is scary. And that there’s some ridiculous belief among people who don’t know any better that recommendation algorithms are like mind control, but the point of an algorithm is… to recommend content. That is, to make a social media (or other kind of service) useful. Without it, you just get an undifferentiated mass of content, and that’s not very useful.
In most cases, algorithms are actually helpful. They point you to the information that actually matters to you and avoid the nonsense that doesn’t. Why, exactly, is that bad?
Also, it seems that under this law, websites would have to create a different kind of service for those under 18 and for those over 18, and carefully track how old those users are, which seems silly. Indeed, it would seem like this bill should raise pretty serious privacy concerns, because now companies are going to have to much more aggressively track age information, meaning they need to be much more intrusive. Age verification is a difficult problem to solve, and with a bill like this, making a mistake (and every website will make mistakes) will be costly.
But, the reality is that the politicians pushing this bill know how ridiculous and silly it is, and how algorithms are actually useful. Want to know how I know? Because the bill has a very, very, very telling exemption:
Exceptions. User-created content that is created by a federal, state, or local government or by a public or private school, college, or university is exempt from this section.
Algorithms recommending content are bad, you see, except if it’s recommending content from us, your loving, well-meaning leaders. For us, keep on recommending our content and only our content.