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Bipartisan bill aims to make the internet safe for minors


Shutterstock | fizkes

John Burger - published on 02/16/22

The Kids Online Safety Act would protect young users from "physical and emotional damage" and shield them from online predators.

New legislation aimed at protecting young people from a variety of dangers on the internet was introduced in the U.S. Senate Wednesday. Sens. Richard L. Blumenthal, D-CT, and Marsha Blackburn, R-TN, unveiled the Kids Online Safety Act, which “calls for social media platforms to provide families with tools and additional transparency aimed at protecting children online,” The Hill reported

According to The Hill, the bill would:

  • Require companies to limit features that “increase, sustain or extend the use” of the platform by a person under the age of 16, such as automatic playing options or “rewards” for time spent on the platform, and to allow minors to opt out of algorithmic recommendation systems;
  • Require platforms to limit the ability of individuals to contact or find a minor, as well as prevent individuals from viewing a minor’s personal data collected by or shared on the platform;
  • Establish a duty of care for platforms to prevent and mitigate harm to minors, including the promotion of self-harm, suicide, eating disorders and substance abuse;
  • Require platforms to perform an annual audit assessing risks to minors and see if the platform is taking steps to prevent those harms;

“In hearings over the last year, Senator Blumenthal and I have heard countless stories of physical and emotional damage affecting young users, and Big Tech’s unwillingness to change,” Blackburn said in a statement. “The Kids Online Safety Act will address those harms by setting necessary safety guiderails for online platforms to follow that will require transparency and give parents more peace of mind.”

Last year, the Senate Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security Subcommittee, chaired by Blumenthal, held a series of hearings with Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, who shared internal research on Instagram’s impact on teens’ mental health.

CNet reported that the parent companies of Facebook and Snapchat – Meta and Snap, respectively – are facing a lawsuit from a mother who says the companies designed Instagram and Snapchat to be addictive, failed to keep minors safe and thus contributed to her 11-year-old suicide. 

“Big Tech has brazenly failed children and betrayed its trust, putting profits above safety,” Blumenthal said in a statement. “Seared in my memory — and motivating my passion — are countless harrowing stories from Connecticut and across the country about heartbreaking loss, destructive emotional rabbit holes, and addictive dark places rampant on social media.”

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