Lawmakers target TikTok and social media dangers with bipartisan CHATS law: ‘The Wild West’


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Representatives Josh Gottheimer, DN.J., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Penn., have introduced new legislation targeting TikTok and other social media apps that lawmakers say pose dangers to young users.

Lawmakers explained that the Combating Harmful Acts on Social Media Act (CHATS) would modify the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program to include information about offenses related to which social media platforms.

The bill, which is backed by support from the Fraternal National 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 information; and to hold other social media platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram accountable for their links to criminal activity, such as drug trafficking.

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“It really is the Wild West, and our children are the natives of the social media landscape,” said Dr Laura Berman, who lost her son, Sammy, to fentanyl poisoning in 2021 after unknowingly buying drugs containing fentanyl on Snapchat.

Representatives Gottheimer and Fitzpatrick introduced a bill that would modify the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program to include information about offenses related to which social media platform(s).
(Mateusz Slodkowski/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Fitzgerald described the bill as an “everyone on deck” approach to tackling the privacy and security issues that social media platforms present to child and adult users. Representatives from Pennsylvania and New Jersey also sent a letter to TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew detailing their privacy concerns for Americans using the short-form video app.

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Data collected by TikTok “can not only be used to detect 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 foreign nations, it would pose a vital national security risk, which I urge Congress and the administration 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 their son, Sammy, on Snapchat – which can be set to delete messages after 24 hours or immediately after they’re sent so there’s no traceable history of a conversation – and he offered to sell him pills, which Chapman and Berman later discovered were illicitly manufactured. The Los Angeles dealer had shared a colorful Snapchat ad with Sammy, showing the types of drugs he was selling.

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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 was selling drugs to Sammy. Since then, they have been advocating for more parental controls on social media apps and more collaboration between social platforms and law enforcement.

“I believe the CHATS bill, if passed, will hold lawmakers and police accountable and make it important for the CEOs of these platforms… [who] treat it like a public relations issue,” Chapman said, later adding that “social media has taken away parental controls.”

Berman pointed out that while parents like her believed their children would be safe staying home during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced students to learn from home and spend time away from other daily activities , the increase in time spent on social media apps presented a lesser-known but immediate danger.

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“When they’re home under your roof, you know they’re safe. Well, thanks to social media, that’s no longer true,” she explained. “Drug dealers find our kids on social media. They don’t have to attract them.”

She added that the “main marketing tool” of drug traffickers 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 drug makers are “flighting fentanyl into Mexico and then the drug cartels are reformatting it into counterfeit drugs that look like real drugs,” Berman said.

Both parents are hopeful that the CHATS Act, if passed, will hold social media officials accountable for crimes that occur or begin on their platforms.


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