Well-Being Mental Health

Advocates urge committee to advance Kids Online Safety Act

“Self-regulation has failed, and we need a new set of rules to protect our children online.”
Social media.

Story at a glance

  • Three organizations advocating for children’s online safety sent a letter to the Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation pushing for the Kids Online Safety Act.

  • The act was first introduced in February 2022 and has received bipartisan support.

  • Only one law currently protects kids’ online data and it’s more than 20 years old.

A joint letter sent sent by online children safety advocates urges Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, to advance the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA).

The letter was organized by Fairplay, ParentsTogether and the Eating Disorders Coalition, and received more than 100 signatures of organizations and individuals concerned about the harmful impacts of social media on kids and teenagers.

KOSA was first introduced in February 2022 and is sponsored by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and 11 others. 

In the letter, advocates call on Cantwell to “publicly commit to moving KOSA, (S.3663) as part of the omnibus spending bill before the end of the current session,” and requests she take time to talk to parents about the issue.

Currently, only one law regulates the collection of children’s data on the internet. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) was first introduced in 1998 when the internet was still in its infancy and smartphones and social media had yet to take off. 

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Previous research has detailed the deleterious effects of lax online regulation when it comes to children and teenagers. Online advertising firms are estimated to be able to collect 72 million data points on children before the age of 13, enabling extreme precision when it comes to targeted advertising. 

KOSA, which has received bipartisan support, would address these concerns by enabling parents and children to better protect private information and report dangerous online activity, advocates say. It would also let parents and children disable addictive features on platforms and opt out of algorithmic recommendations. 

In addition, the bill “requires platforms to track and monitor risks to minors and make public the steps they are taking to mitigate them,” the letter reads. 

The push comes on the heels of new research that suggests TikTok — one of the most popular social media platforms used by children and teens in the United States —perpetuates unhealthy diet culture among young users and could contribute to disordered eating and body dissatisfaction. The company says it has taken steps to reduce the harmful content.

Repeated and long-term social media use has also been associated with increased rates of depression, anxiety and sleep deprivation among young users, advocates say.

In 2021, it was revealed Facebook knew its products harmed children and teens yet the company continued to prioritize profits over these risks. 

“Social media companies have made it abundantly clear that they prioritize their revenue and profits over the public interest and will not act on their own. Self-regulation has failed, and we need a new set of rules to protect our children online,” the letter reads. 

Along with TikTok, Facebook and Instagram, advocates also cited the harms of Snapchat, where in the past children have purchased drugs laced with fentanyl. The company has since made changes, making it more difficult for drug dealers to connect with children. 

“As a bill with broad bipartisan support, KOSA is our best chance at passing robust online safety legislation this year as part of an omnibus spending bill,” authors wrote.

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