Youth leader of #GoodforMEdia helps pass legislation to protect kids’ safety and wellbeing online

digital well-being Feb 16, 2023
Youth leader of #GoodforMEdia

Since starting her social media journey in seventh grade, Sonia has been a big fan of Instagram, which serves as a platform to connect with friends and discover inspiring content. However, spending time on social media could be draining, especially when she compared herself to others' photos or got pushed ads promoting weight-loss products, like detox teas.


She soon learned that her peers share the same social media struggles.


As a leader of the Body Positive club at her all-girls school, Sonia facilitated workshops about intuitive living and self-love for students. Whether the audience was seventh graders or seniors, she consistently fielded questions about navigating hyper-realistic social media filters, and aggressive online ads for weight-loss pills and juice cleanses. 


“Bombarded with challenging (and insidious) media messages, social media scrolling was making my peers and me doubt our inherent self-worth,” Sonia said. “I wanted to help youth reshape our relationship with social media and become empowered, rather than diminished, by technology.”


Sonia joined #GoodforMEdia, a project from Stanford Psychiatry’s Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing. As one of the co-founders, Sonia reveals a deep love for #GoodforMEdia. 


“We tackle the positive and negative aspects of social media; as a source of connection and education, social media has so much potential to benefit one's mental health,” she said. “My generation is the first to have grown up with technology, so #GoodforMEdia recognizes the importance of centering youth perspectives in discussions around social media development and policy. #GoodforMEdia amplifies kids' voices through sharing youth's experiences with social media as a form of education and advocacy.”


In Sonia’s mind, kids' online privacy is always a big concern: popular social media accounts regularly recommend kids' accounts to strangers, leaving many avenues open for adults with ill intentions to contact kids. 


“Targeted advertising/content needs to be revisited, too,” Sonia said. “Especially if kids go down rabbit holes of harmful content (such as posts endorsing dangerous behaviors, like disordered eating or self-harm), social media algorithms will simply continue to inundate the child's feed with this damaging content to increase user engagement.”


However, a new bill will alleviate these issues to a large extent in California. AB 2273, approved by Governor Gavin Newsom on September 15, 2022, prohibits technology companies from collecting kids’ geographic location, profiling kids by default ,and  guiding or encouraging children to provide personal information.


It requires businesses with an online presence to complete a Data Protection Impact Assessment before offering new online services, products, or features likely to be accessed by children. The bill also requires that privacy information, terms of service, policies, and community standards be easily accessible and upheld – and requires responsive tools to help children exercise their privacy rights. 


Sonia hopes the bill will help #GoodforMEdia foster healthy social media engagement and is willing to advocate for structural changes to protect youth online because many features within social media design put kids' privacy and well-being at risk. 


Through #GoodforMEdia's curriculum and educational guides, Sonia and her team provide concrete strategies to help youth protect their mental health while engaging with the digital world. 


“AB 2273 will increase kids' privacy online by turning off geolocation and implementing high privacy settings on children's accounts by default,” she said. “AB 2273 will also reduce the data collection of kids in ways that are detrimental to kids' wellbeing, thereby decreasing the risk that kids are pushed to harmful content online by personalized algorithms.”


“I enjoy using social media to stay in touch with friends,” Sonia said. “With that being said, I always try to be mindful while practicing social media activities so that I can think critically about the content I am shown (sometimes, this just means remembering that social media is a highlight reel!) and recognize when it's time to take a break from scrolling.” 


If you would like to learn more about this program or you would like to get involved, contact Sonia at [email protected]

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