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Harvard Medical School study estimates social media companies are making billions of dollars off of kids

Harvard Medical School study estimates social media companies are making billions of dollars off of kids

NEW YORK — For the first time, new research out of an Ivy League college estimates what many have been thinking for years, that popular social media companies are making an overwhelming amount of money off their youngest users.

Social media platforms aren’t making millions; they’re making billions off of kids and teens, according to estimates laid out in new research from Harvard Medical School, and parents are outraged.

“There should be some type of regulation about this,” one person said.

“It’s terrible. Social media is taking over our lives,” another said. “They’re being used. That’s horrible. Stop this. Let the kids be kids.”

“I was just talking with my daughter and she said she is going to delete TikTok because it’s just a commercial,” another added.

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The findings are the first to estimate just how much money the six most popular social media platforms get from annual advertising, targeting Americans under the age of 18 for a collective $11 billion in 2022.

“It’s important for parents to know that their child’s time online is being monetized,” said Dr. Amanda Raffoul, instructor in pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.

Raffoul, the study’s lead author, said they had to gather data from business marketing and public surveys.

“Social media platforms have no legal obligation to release data on the types of ads youths see,” Raffoul said. “It’s really unlikely platforms will self-regulate when they’re making so much money.”

In part, the study’s research shows Instagram got the greatest revenue from teens 13-17, $4 billion. TikTok got $2 billion from the same age range. YouTube made almost $1 billion off kids 12 and under, and Facebook got almost $140 million from the same group.

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Titania Jordan is with Bark Technologies, a company that helps parents monitor online threats.

“The problem lies when they’re generating so much revenue off of minors then there aren’t incentives to protect the minors, and the more time children are spending on social media, the more harm they’re encountering,” Jordan said.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said in her state-of-the-state address last week she will be pushing for more laws to regulate social media, especially when it comes to addictive algorithms that could cause depression in teens.

“Social media is a silent killer of our children’s generation,” Hochul said.

State Sen. Andrew Gounardes is sponsoring a bill that would make social media safer for kids and teens.

“These companies have every single incentive, $11 billion worth to keep doing what they’re doing,” Gounardes said. “All that we are saying is that with a default option the social media apps cannot use addictive algorithms to automatically feed content to young people.”

Recently, Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, said that it will start to limit the type of content younger users could see, but leaders say they don’t trust them and that’s why laws must be put in place.

CBS New York reached out to all six social media platforms mentioned in this study, but none of them got back to us.