WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ranking Member and Chair of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security, met with young people and parents of children who died or were injured because of social media harms to discuss the urgent need for passage of the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA). The advocates are in Washington, D.C. to meet with lawmakers and encourage the passage of the legislation before the end of the year. Some of the parents were on Capitol Hill in November to push for the legislation, returning to continue their advocacy.
“We’re just so grateful. Thank you,” said Blackburn to the advocates sharing their personal stories.
“You are the face and voice of the generation that has been most affected by it,” said Blumenthal. “We are so grateful to many of you who have come back again, because I know every time you do it’s painful.”
Sharing young people’s perspective on social media’s harms and the need for KOSA were Andrew Brennen (25), Larissa May (28), Thanasi Dilos (19), Zamaan Qureshi (20), and Julia Terpak (25).
“I’ve been an education advocate for nearly a decade and a founder of the Kentucky Student Voice Team. Many of our members, many young people in our state are LGTBQ youth. They experience a lot of harassment, they are targeted, and this bill starts to give us some of the tools to be able to fight back against that and to be able to make some progress,” said Brennen. “I can’t imagine why we would do nothing when we have the opportunity to do something.”
“I started Civics Unplugged because I was out of high school for most of my career with really bad mental health issues. I tried to kill myself and I had no hope. And you know I devoted my life to making sure other kids had the opportunity to move the needle on issues that they care about and I see KOSA as the first step to protect the future of our nation,” said Dilos. “I think KOSA is the first step in a comprehensive new way of looking at the internet. How kids online live.”
“I have an advice column with The Washington Post about life online but more broadly across platforms, I do research and analysis of digital culture and how humans and computers interact,” said Terpak. “I have a lot to credit to social media within my life but it’s both utopian and dystopian in a lot of ways and we need to mitigate those things. Our generation has been guinea pigs for the past decade. We all feel that, we all talk about it constantly. And there’s a lack of choice on platforms, and we just need movements like KOSA to go through to, like I said, pick up those loose ends and make this better for the next generation.”
“I’m a 20 year old student and I’m here representing our generation, folks who have suffered eating disorder, depression from scrolling on these platforms,” said Qureshi. “We recognize that KOSA is the first step in that fight and that’s why we’re here on the Hill meeting with members who could potentially push this legislation over the line. We’ve heard the stories of parents and we echo those stories amongst folks in our generation, our friends, our family. And I think we speak on behalf of a country that really doesn’t know how to address the social media problem at home. We said before that we are really kind of The Wall Street Journal’s Facebook Files personified.”
“I’m the founder of an organization called #HalfTheStory. My journey with digital wellness activism began seven years ago in my dorm room in Nashville, Tennessee, when I attempted to take my own life as a result of the weaponized algorithms while dealing with an eating disorder, depression and anxiety,” said May. “KOSA is a seatbelt. It’s a seatbelt for our kids to have the chance and have safety, be the benchmark of our future…The last legislation that was passed to protect youth on a federal level was in 1998. That was over 20 years ago. And from the time that Instagram was bought and went from zero to one billion users, the rates of suicide, self-harm, depression have basically grown at almost the exact same rate. This is something that we can’t argue with and this is why KOSA needs to be passed.”
Emphasizing the need to get KOSA passed this year, Deb Schmill of Massachusetts, whose daughter, Becca, died at 18 years-old of fentanyl poisoning from drugs she and a friend purchased from a dealer they used Facebook to find, said: “letting it go to the next legislation means children are going to die. It means another year of children dying. And who wants to be accountable for that? This Congress should not want to be accountable for next year having another group of moms, a completely different group beyond the women who are here right now, there are many, many other moms and parents around the country who have also lost children. And we can’t wait another year. We need this now.”
The introduction of KOSA earlier this year followed reporting and a series of subcommittee hearings spearheaded by Blumenthal and Blackburn with social media companies and advocates on the repeated failures by tech giants to protect kids on their platforms and about the dangers kids face online. KOSA awaits Senate Floor action after it passed the Senate Commerce Committee unanimously in July.
More information on the legislation can be found here.
Photos from Blumenthal and Blackburn’s meeting can be found here and video can be found here and here.
The transcript from the media availability is available upon request.