The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is taking a proactive approach to internet regulation by planning to hire child psychologists to assess the mental health impacts of online activities for children and young people. This move, supported by FTC Chair Lina Khan, aims to address the growing concerns about the potential risks associated with children’s internet use. By adding child psychologists to their team, the FTC seeks to enhance their understanding of the psychological aspects involved and make more informed decisions regarding online protections for kids and teens.
The Shift towards Online Protections
There is a growing consensus among federal and state lawmakers that increased measures are necessary to make the internet a safer place for young users. This has led to the proposal of new legislation that advocates stronger age authentication and places greater responsibility on tech companies to design safe products for children. The U.S. Surgeon General released an advisory highlighting the significant mental health risks posed by young people’s social media use. This broader push for online protections has set the stage for the FTC’s plan to hire child psychologists.
The FTC’s decision to add child psychologists to their team aligns with their approach as an expert agency. Commissioner Alvaro Bedoya, founder of the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown University Law Center, emphasizes the importance of expanding expertise within the FTC. By hiring economists and technologists in the past, the FTC has demonstrated a commitment to staying at the forefront of emerging issues. Bringing child psychologists on board is the next logical step to ensure they possess comprehensive knowledge in an area directly relevant to their work.
Utilizing In-House Child Psychologists
Commissioner Bedoya envisions the in-house child psychologists as valuable resources for himself and other commissioners. With a team of 80 Ph.D. economists readily available for economic inquiries, Bedoya expresses the need for similar expertise in the realm of mental health. By having child psychologists as full-time staff members, the FTC can demonstrate its commitment to addressing the psychological impacts of online activities on children and young people. This move could also inspire other law enforcement agencies to recognize the importance of having experts in-house to effectively address these issues.
The addition of child psychologists to the FTC’s team would bring invaluable insights into assessing allegations of how social media affects mental health and evaluating the impact of deceptive features, such as dark patterns. These experts can provide a deeper understanding of the underlying causes behind alleged harms and inform the appropriate damages sought by the agency. While the initial hires may be psychological scientists or social psychologists who primarily conduct research, they would also contribute to investigations, strategy development, and possibly even rulemaking.
The FTC’s plan to hire child psychologists signifies a significant step towards more comprehensive and informed internet regulation. By understanding the mental health impacts of online activities for children and young people, the FTC aims to enhance its ability to protect and advocate for their well-being. This move aligns with the broader shift towards online protections, supported by lawmakers and the U.S. Surgeon General. As an expert agency, the FTC continues to expand its expertise to effectively address emerging issues, reinforcing its commitment to safeguarding consumers in the digital age.