Senators push bill protecting kids from online danger (includes video story)

Lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle met for a hearing Tuesday to reintroduce the Kids Online Safety Act, which would set stricter measures when it comes to the safety and privacy of children online. 

KOSA was proposed last year by Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. It was unanimously supported by the Senate Judiciary Committee but not the entire Senate. Now lawmakers are trying again.

Blackburn emphasized the harms of social media on children after a new report was released by the Centers for Disease Control on Monday declaring a national youth mental health crisis. 

“When these children are on these platforms, they’re the product,” said Blackburn. “Their data is taken, that data is monetized, and then that is sold to the advertisers.” 

Dr. Mitch Prinstein, chief science officer of the American Psychological Association, testified that the average teenager spends more than eight hours online per day. With the increase in sadness and hopelessness that high schoolers face, researchers say social media could be a big factor. 

Youth advocate Emma Lembke shared her story about creating her first social media account —on Instagram— when she was only 12, calling it “an illusion.”

“As my screen time increased, my mental and physical health suffered,” said the 19-year-old. “The constant quantification of my worth, through likes, comments, and followers, heightened my anxiety and deepened my depression,” Lembke added, who also founded the LOG OFF movement

Among the witnesses, was Kristin Bride, the mother of 16-year-old Carson Bride, whom she lost to suicide after being viciously cyberbullied on anonymous apps like Yolo, LMK, and Sarahah. 

“We discovered that Carson had received nearly 100 negative, harassing, sexually explicit, and humiliating messages, including 40 in just one day,” Bride said.

The legislation would require Big Tech companies to disclose risks to children, build parental supervision tools and create stricter controls for kids under age 16. 

However, more than 90 LGBTQ+ and human rights organizations oppose the measure, saying that the vague language can result in an invasion of children’s privacy. They also contend it allows restrictions on accessing useful resources that could endanger kids experiencing abuse at home. 

In his state of the union address, President Biden called for bipartisan support to “hold Big Tech accountable” and pass legislation to protect children from online harm. 

Nicole Ardila is a digital broadcasting major at FIU, also pursuing a minor in psychology. She's reported for Caplin News from Washington, D.C. for an NBCU Academy Fellowship and directed the Opinion section for FIU’s student media, PantherNOW. In the future, she hopes to become a photojournalist and producer for documentaries/film to share important stories from across the world.