of i-mean-what-is-happening-here department
The various “kids” moral panic bills regarding the internet are getting dumber. In Minnesota, the legislature moved forward with a really dumb bill, which the legislature’s own website says could make the state “a national leader in putting in place new security barriers on internet platforms.” social media”. The bill is pretty simple – it states 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 1. 18 years old.
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-generated content to an account holder under 18 years old.
(b) The operator of a social media platform is liable to an individual account holder who received user-generated content through a social media algorithm while the individual account holder was under the age of 18 years 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 or special damages, (2) a legal fine of $1,000 for each violation of this article, and (3) any other penalties. provided for by law.
So, uh, why? I mean, I understand that for people who are computer illiterate, the word “algorithm” is scary. And that there’s a ridiculous belief among people who don’t know any better that recommendation algorithms are like mind control, but the purpose of an algorithm is… to recommend content. In other words, to create a social media (or other type of service) useful. Without it, you just get an undifferentiated mass of content, and that’s not very useful.
In more case, the algorithms are actually useful. They direct you to the information that really matters to you and avoid the nonsense that doesn’t matter. Why, exactly, is it bad?
Also, it seems that under this law, websites would have to create a different kind of service for under 18s and over 18s, and carefully track the age of those users, which seems silly. Indeed, it looks like this bill is set to raise some pretty serious privacy issues, as companies are now going to have to track age information much more aggressively, which means they have to be much more intrusive. Age verification is a tough problem to solve, and with a bill like this, making a mistake (and all websites will make mistakes) will be expensive.
But the reality is that the politicians pushing this bill know how ridiculous and stupid it is, and how algorithms are actually useful. You want to know how I know? Because the bill has a very, very, very telling exemption:
Exceptions. User-generated 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 comes to recommending content from us, your loving and well-meaning leaders. For us, keep recommending our content and only our content.
Filed Under: algorithms, for kids, minnesota, recommendations