The Eyes on the Board Act Is Yet Another Misguided Attempt to Limit Social Media for Teens
Young people’s access to social media continues to be under attack by overreaching politicians. The latest effort, Senator Ted Cruz’s blunt “Eyes on the Board” Act, aims to end social media’s use entirely in schools. This heavy-handed plan to cut federal funding to any school that doesn’t block all social media platforms may have good intentions—like ensuring kids are able to focus on school work when they’re behind a desk—but the ramifications of such a bill would be bleak, and it’s not clear that it would solve any actual problem.
Eyes on the Board would prohibit any school from receiving any federal E-Rate funding subsidies if it also allows access to social media. Schools and libraries that receive this funding are already required to install internet filters; the Children’s Internet Protection Act, or CIPA, requires that these schools must block or filter Internet access to “visual depictions” that are obscene, child pornography, or harmful to minors, as well as requiring the monitoring of the online activities of minors for the same purpose. In return, the E-Rate program subsidizes internet services for schools and libraries in districts with high rates of poverty.
This bill is a brazen attempt to censor information and to control how schools and teachers educate.
First, it’s not clear that there is a problem here that needs fixing. In practice, most schools choose to block much, much more than social media sites. This is a problem—these filters likely stop students from accessing educational information, and many tools flag students for accessing sites that aren’t blocked, endangering their privacy. Some students’ only access to the internet is during school hours, and others’ only internet-capable device is issued by their school, making these website blocks and flags particularly troubling.
So it’s very, very likely that many schools already block social media if they find it disruptive. In our recent research, it was common for schools to do so. And according to the American Library Association’s last “School Libraries Count!” survey, conducted a decade ago, social media platforms were the most likely type of content to be blocked, with 88% of schools reporting that they did so. Again, it’s unclear what problem this bill purports to solve. But it is clear that Congress requiring that schools block social media platforms entirely, by government decree, is far more prohibitive than necessary to keep students’ “eyes on the board.”
In short: too much social media access, via school networks or devices, is not a problem that teachers and administrators need the government to correct. If it is a problem, schools already have the tools to fix it, and twenty years after CIPA, they know generally how to do so. And if a school wants to allow access to platforms that an enormous percentage of students already use—to help guide them on its usage, or teach them about its privacy settings, for example—they should be allowed to do so without risking the loss of federal funding.
Second, the broad scope of this bill would ban any access to a website whose primary purpose is to allow users to communicate user-generated content to the public, including even those that are explicitly educational or designed for young people. Banning students from using any social media, even educational platforms, is a massive overreach.
No senator should consider moving this bill forward.
Third, the bill is also unconstitutional. A government prohibition on accessing a whole category of speech–social media speech, the vast majority of which is fully legal–is a restriction on speech that would be unlikely to survive strict scrutiny under the Supreme Court’s First Amendment precedent. As
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