Technology

Grieving parents push for kids’ online safety bills during lame duck

Joann Bogard of Indiana who lost her son to a dangerous social media game hugs Kristin Bride, who lost her teen son to bullying. They joined nine other mothers on the Hill to urge lawmakers to pass legislation to keep kids safe online seen on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2022 in Washington. (Eric Kayne/AP Images for ParentsTogether Action)

Congress has a busy itinerary in the lame duck session, but some grieving parents believe lawmakers should have a clear legislative priority: protecting minors from the harms they say led to their children’s deaths. 

A group of mothers whose children’s deaths were tied to social media are meeting with lawmakers this week, and sent a letter to congressional leaders, to push Congress to pass two bills that would add additional regulations governing how tech companies operate for children and teens. 

The group includes parents of kids who died by fentanyl-laced drugs purchased on apps, by suicide after being cyberbullied online and by participating in a dangerous viral “choking challenge.” 

“I want social media companies to be held accountable for their products,” Kristin Bride, one of the parents, said Tuesday on CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper.”

“We know that anonymous apps are dangerous. We need to have a process where these products are reviewed like every other industry before they go and get marketed to millions of young users,” she added. 

Bride’s son Carson died by suicide after being bullied on an anonymous feature available through Snapchat. The feature is no longer offered on the photo messaging app, but she said that since then, other anonymous messaging features posing the same issues have emerged on other platforms. 

Bride and other activist parents are pushing for the Senate to pass the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) and Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act 2.0 (COPPA 2.0). The bills advanced out of a Senate committee in July with bipartisan support.

KOSA addresses platforms’ designs and how they operate for young users. It would create a duty of care for social media platforms to prevent and mitigate harm to minors, and require platforms to put the strictest privacy settings in place as the default setting for minors. 

Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), the lead sponsors of KOSA, said the proposal is necessary to hold social media platforms accountable. 

COPPA 2.0 would update the 1998 children’s privacy law to include protections for minors aged 12-16, who are not covered by the existing law, and add new protections such as banning targeted advertising to children. 

The parent activists are meeting with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) during their visit to Congress.

The Senate Commerce consumer protection subcommittee, led by Blumenthal and Blackburn, held a series of hearings last year with several tech companies, including Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube, to press executives over potential harms to children. 

Blumenthal told reporters on Tuesday that industry officials have not provided a single viable or credible objection to any part of the legislation. 

Blackburn said the industry has shown “it will not self regulate, which has been part of the frustration we have dealt with.”

The bills have support on both sides of the aisle, but may face a crossroads, especially COPPA 2.0, over differences among lawmakers about how to proceed with updating data privacy regulations

Tricia Enright, a spokesperson for Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said the senator is talking to families this week and “supports any effort to get children’s online privacy passed during the lame duck.”

When the bills advanced out of committee in July, ranking member Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) voted against the COPPA 2.0 not based on the legislation itself but rather because he said the committee should instead have prioritized the comprehensive American Data Privacy Protection Act (ADPPA). Cantwell has not supported the ADPPA. 

The House Energy and Commerce Committee advanced a version of the ADPPA in July with bipartisan support.

C.J. Young, a spokesperson for Pallone, said the chairman “is focused on passing the comprehensive American Data Privacy and Protection Act before the end of the year, which includes historic online privacy protections for kids and teens.”

The diverging priorities may cause trouble for efforts to get regulation updating how kids’ data is managed over the finish line. 

In addition to lawmakers, the group of activist mothers are also meeting with Federal Trade Commission commissioners Alvaro Bedoya and Christine Wilson. The agency launched an effort in August to review and update rules around data privacy.

Tags children's online safety Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act 2.0 Frank Pallone Maria Cantwell Richard Blumenthal Roger Wicker
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