Some of the side effects Dr. Diaz and her colleagues see in young people due to continuous social media exposure are troubling, to say the least. “The biggest side effect that we worry about from a psychological or mental health standpoint is really what we refer to as the social-comparison effect,” Dr. Diaz tells Allure. “Today’s teens basically have a standard of beauty, of what it looks like to be successful, what it looks like to be interesting. So success is like, are you an influencer? Did you go viral? The standard of beauty, of course, is very heavily filtered, heavily curated.”
All of that rolled into apps where teenagers are endlessly accessing that content can lead to a lot of time spent comparing themselves to those unrealistic standards, she adds. “Those comparisons can unfortunately start to develop a very unhealthy self-esteem. There is research to indicate the more time you spend on social media, the more likely you are to report symptoms of anxiety, depression, or just feeling not so good about yourself.”
That data, along with a recent survey conducted by Dove’s Self-Esteem Project that found “8 in 10 youth mental health specialists say social media is fueling a mental health crisis,” is why the Dove Self-Esteem Project is teaming up with Lizzo (yes, that Lizzo), Common Sense Media, and Parents Together Action to fight back by putting their support behind the 2023 Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) bill.
KOSA, originally authored in 2022 by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), will be reintroduced in Congress later this year. Its goal is to support “design standards, safeguards, and tools that protect kids’ overall experiences online and limit their exposure to toxic beauty content that erodes their self-esteem,” according to a press release by Dove. It would provide those safety tools for minors, which the bill defines as anyone under 16.
The full bill is extensive, but the key safeguards and tools proposed would: disable “addictive product features” and enable “opt-out recommendations”; create “a duty for social media platforms to prevent and mitigate harms to minors, such as content promoting of self-harm, suicide, eating disorders, substance abuse, and sexual exploitation”; require “social media platforms to perform an annual independent audit assessing risks to minors” and make the results of the audit available to the public; and provide “experts access to critical data to foster research regarding harms to the safety and well-being of minors.” All of this would be enforced federally by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and at the state level by attorneys general.
While supporters await the day KOSA hits Congress again, they’re confident the bill will pass this time around, says Jim Steyer, the CEO of Common Sense Media, an educational nonprofit that has partnered with the Dove Self-Esteem Project for this initiative. “There is strong bipartisan support for KOSA and there is strong support outside of Congress for it,” he says. “In the Senate, at least, there is a healthy appetite for taking action on kids and tech. They almost did it last year and I believe they will do it this year. The youth mental health crisis is fueling deserved attention toward this type of bill.”