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As much of a problem as social media platforms can be, nobody should be looking to Congress for help.
There’s little doubt that the internet is packing a wallop on American children. The average American teenager spends as much as five hours a day on social media, with YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok being particular favorites. And as any responsible parent or educator will tell you, the sheer length of time children spend on social media has serious consequences —  among them, anxiety, depression, listlessness, and low self-esteem
The question, then, is what the government should do about it. Based on last week’s Senate hearings with the CEOs of several major social media companies, however, it seems that the government is more interested in ranting and raving than creating practical policy solutions.  
We can’t expect reasonable reforms from federal lawmakers; they’re far more interested in complaining and, ironically, going viral on X than they are in handling this crisis properly. States should take the lead. 
Lawmakers may bewail the impact of Snapchat and TikTok, but it seems Congress simply doesn’t know what’s going on. What proposed legislation is out there — namely the meandering, 20-page “Protecting Kids on Social Media Act” — orders social media platforms to “take reasonable steps beyond merely requiring attestation, taking into account existing age verification technologies,” in order to prevent minors under 13 years old from accessing the platform. The bill also mandates a similar approach for older children (13- to 17-year-olds) to create social media accounts. 
What are these “existing age verification technologies”? What constitutes “reasonable steps”? Nobody in Congress seems to know or care. 
This should be no surprise; remember, this is the same legislative body whose members still struggle to grasp the internet’s basics. Even simple location services, Google search keywords, and the concept of a private Instagram account appear to confound many legislators. 
Trust in Congress is already at or near an all-time low. We barely trust the House enough to elect a speaker; why would we expect Congress to regulate our children’s online security?
States, however, have something that Congress does not — a clue — which allows them to be both more thoughtful and more productive with how they manage tech. To be sure, states such as Texas and Utah, which are instituting vague, intense, and possibly unconstitutional regulations against social media companies, are making the same mistakes as Congress. But in most cases, states are better prepared than the federal government to implement incremental reforms
California, for instance, set strict guidelines for how social media companies combat online child abuse but avoided the trap of micromanaging exactly how platforms comply with these guidelines. Virginia created a policy council that will collaborate with law enforcement agencies and nongovernmental organizations to keep children safe online. New York authorized an existing commission studying human trafficking, which already has prosecutorial authority, to consider social media as well. 
These reforms will mean more stings that catch bad guys before they hurt anyone, more comprehensive guidelines and best practices for concerned parents, and increased transparency between platforms and users, all of which are conducive to keeping children safe. 
Moreover, even if state policies do fail, it’s better for policies to fail on a smaller scale so other states (and the federal government) can learn from those mistakes and adjust accordingly. 
Reining in social media platforms is important, but federal legislators are completely unprepared to meet the task. Instead, state governments, where there is both a greater margin for error and a greater willingness to learn, should take the lead. Federalism should lay the track for effective social media policy. 
Garion Frankel is a Ph.D. student in PK-12 educational leadership at Texas A&M University. He is a Young Voices contributor and was previously an education journalist.



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