Online Kids Safety Act introduced
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WDEF) – A new bill introduced this morning by Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn and Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal aims to tackle how social media companies can access the data of children.
The Kids Online Safety Act (here is a shorter version) would require social media platforms to automatically disable features based on data collection for minors under 17.
These include screen time limits, controlling the personalization systems that determine what shows up on user’s feeds, and access to certain aspects of their profile.
U.S. Senator for Tennessee Marsha Blackburn said, “We all have one goal. Providing an environment for kids online that is safe by design and default.”
Both Senators hope this bipartisan piece of legislation targets what they say are rising mental illness rates in teenagers.
U.S. Senator for Connecticut Richard Blumenthal said, “Parents who are still suffering unspeakable grief after losing loved ones, their children, because of bullying, because of eating disorders, because of that toxic content that is driven to kids.”
Several parents and younger adults alike gave their accounts of how they say social media negatively impacted them.
Emma Lembke, a youth activist and Co-Chair, Design It for Us said, “As I spent more time online, I saw a direct correlation between my deterioration of my mental and physical health as I continued to scroll.”
Tracey Kemp, a parent of a child who experienced racial cyber-bulling, said, “My son was 14 when he was bullied for being black. Yes, he was cyberbullied for being black. Where there was a picture posted on an Instagram page called ‘monkeys of his middle school’, and there were images of him and other black students with the tagline of ‘send pictures of monkeys.'”
Joann Bogard, a social media reform advocate, said, “We lost our son Mason to the viral social media challenge, ‘The Choking Game.’ While Mason was on life support, I kept asking myself, ‘What did I miss?'”
Companies would have to conduct internal audits on what content they’re presenting to minors and make that data public to third party researchers.
Previous efforts to pass similar legislation have been opposed due to concerns that the legislation would stifle children’s freedom of speech and access to educational resources.
The Senators say they’ve been meeting with groups about these concerns.
Sen. Blumenthal said, “We’ve also narrowed the duty of care to apply very explicitly to certain kinds of harms.”
They expect the bill to be up for a vote by the end of the year and say they have the support of many of their colleagues.