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Rep. Josh Gottheimer, DN.J., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Penn., introduced new legislation targeting TikTok and other social media apps that lawmakers say pose dangers to young users.
Lawmakers said the Combatting Harmful Acts on Social Media Act (CHATS) would change the FBI’s unified crime reporting program to include information about which crimes are linked to which social media platforms.
The bill, which is supported by the National Fraternal Order of Police, has three goals, Gottheimer said: to protect children from the dangers of TikTok data-sharing; Pressure TikTok – owned by Chinese parent company ByteDance – to track user data, including children’s personal data; and other social media platforms like Snapchat and Instagram to account for their links to criminal activities like drug deals.
According to the report, China has repeatedly accessed data from US Tiktok users
“It really is the Wild West, and our kids are the natives of the social media landscape,” said Dr. Laura Berman, who lost her son Sammy to fentanyl poisoning in 2021 after he unknowingly bought fentanyl-laced medication on Snapchat.
Fitzgerald described the bill as an “all-hands-on-deck” approach to addressing privacy and security issues that social media platforms pose to both children and adult users. Representatives from Pennsylvania and New Jersey also wrote a letter to TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew outlining their privacy concerns for Americans using the short-form video app.
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The data collected by TikTok “not only can be used to identify Americans’ travel and financial habits, but could also provide sensitive information about their relationships, behaviors, preferences and vulnerabilities,” the letter said. “If this data were shared with other nations, it would pose a vital national security risk that I urge Congress and the government to address.”
Berman, host of The Dr. Laura Berman Show,” and Samuel Chapman know firsthand the dangers that social media apps pose to children.
A drug dealer approached her son Sammy on Snapchat — which can be set to delete messages after 24 hours or immediately after they’re sent, so there’s no trace of a conversation — and offered to sell him pills containing Chapman and Berman later discovered they were being manufactured illegally. The Los Angeles dealer shared a colorful ad with Sammy on Snapchat, showing the types of drugs he sold.
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When Berman and Chapman found their son dead on the floor of their home from fentanyl poisoning, they were shocked when police told them Snapchat couldn’t help law enforcement locate the dealer who sold Sammy’s drugs. Since then, they have advocated for more parental control over social media apps and more collaboration between social platforms and law enforcement agencies.
“I believe that the CHATS Act, when enacted, will hold lawmakers and the police accountable and make it important to the CEOs of these platforms… [who] treat it like a PR issue,” Chapman said, later adding that “social media has taken away parental control.”
Berman stressed that parents like her thought their children would stay home safely during the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing students to study from home and spend time outside of their other daily activities, but the time , they spent on social media apps posed a lesser-known but imminent threat.
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“When they are at home under your roof, you know they are safe. Well, thanks to social media, that’s not true anymore,” she explained. “The drug dealers find our kids on social media. You don’t have to bait them.”
She added that drug dealers’ “primary marketing tool” is social media. Apps like Snapchat and TikTok therefore play a role in drug poisoning and other crimes like human trafficking.
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Not only does China control ByteDance, which owns TikTok, but Chinese drugmakers “smuggle fentanyl into Mexico, and then the drug cartels reformat it into counterfeit drugs that look like real drugs,” Berman said.
Both parents hope that the CHATS Act, if passed, will hold social media executives accountable for crimes committed or committed on their platforms.