ICYMI: Blackburn & Blumenthal Op-Ed: It’s Time To Put Kids’ Online Safety Ahead Of Big Tech Profits

May 3, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) penned an op-ed in The Hill laying out the case for their bipartisan Kids Online Safety Act, reintroduced yesterday with the support of over 30 original Senate co-sponsors and hundreds of advocacy groups.  

The Kids Online Safety Act provides young people and parents with the tools, safeguards, and transparency they need to protect against specific online harms. The bill requires social media platforms to put the well-being of children first, ensuring an environment that is safe by default. It also requires third-party audits and allows for independent research to ensure that social media platforms are taking meaningful steps to address risks to kids.

Read more here.

It’s time to put kids’ online safety ahead of Big Tech profits

By U.S. Senators Marsha Blackburn and Richard Blumenthal

The Hill

Young people across the country are in the midst of a mental health crisis. According to recent CDC data teens, especially teen girls, are reporting record levels of sadness, hopelessness, and suicidal thoughts. This deepening depression among youth has been fueled and exacerbated by Big Tech’s poisonous profits-over-safety business model, which heightens the urgency of necessary reforms. Our Kids Online Safety Act, which we are reintroducing today, will protect and empower young people against the toxic content driven at them by black box algorithms and will hold Big Tech accountable.


We first introduced the Kids Online Safety Act more than a year ago after reporting exposed how online platforms put profits over kids’ safety. Thanks to damning whistleblower evidence, the world saw firsthand what Facebook long knew and hid: that it was knowingly driving toxic, addicting, and dangerous content at young people to maximize its profits.


Social media can have many positives and benefits. It can forge supportive communities, be a helpful resource, and foster creativity.

But Facebook knew that young people often feel worse because of social media. It knew its products were linked with eating disorders, depression, and suicide. And instead of addressing the problem, it covered it up. Why? Because that pain makes them — and other social media companies — more money.


We held a series of investigative hearings. We called in Big Tech executives, experts, and advocates to understand the scope of the problem.


In Congress, we often disagree with colleagues across the aisle, but we all agree here on the need for change. After five hearings and in consultation with stakeholders, we drafted the Kids Online Safety Act.


This legislation’s goals are simple: give young people and parents tools and safeguards to take back control over their online lives, and ensure online platforms are held accountable. 


The Kids Online Safety Act will require platforms to disable addictive product features by default and let young people opt-out of algorithmic recommendations, giving them more control over their online experience. 


Our bill will make platforms legally responsible for preventing and mitigating harms to young people online, such as content promoting suicide, eating disorders, substance abuse, bullying, and sexual exploitation.  


These and other provisions of this comprehensive bipartisan bill will help protect young people and ensure that there are real, enforceable rules in place for Big Tech. 


We know the companies can make these changes. In fact, in Europe, many similar reforms are already law. Online platforms can do it, but they will not on their own. They will always prioritize their profits over young people’s wellbeing. That’s why we need to put protections into the law in the United States, too.


We’ve seen states, school districts, and parents launch their own efforts to hold platforms accountable through new laws and litigation. These efforts reflect Americans’ growing frustration with the ongoing dangers the online world poses to kids and the urgent need to hold these companies accountable. Still, this persistent problem will only continue without comprehensive federal legislation like our Kids Online Safety Act to ensure all kids, no matter their ZIP code, are safe online.


Dozens of parents and youth advocates came to Washington, D.C. at the end of last year to urge members of Congress to pass the Kids Online Safety Act.


Brave parents turned their unspeakable grief into action to ensure no more families would have to know the gut-wrenching pain of losing their child. Teen advocates who had suffered immense harms themselves and lost friends because of online platforms’ addictive and dangerous practices voiced their deep concerns.


One parent shared a message with Congress on her visit. She said: “How many more children have to die before we make them a priority? Now is the time. Let’s do it. Let’s pass it.” 


This parent’s powerful call to action — along with countless other parent and youth voices across the country speaking out about the onslaught of toxic, harmful, algorithm-driven content they face online — helped lawmakers and the public understand what is at stake.


It is thanks to their efforts — a broad, rare coalition — that Congress got so close to passing this important bill at the end of last year and why we are continuing to fight to get it passed now. Still, despite the clear popular demand for action, we know this will be an uphill fight against Big Tech’s lawyers and lobbyists.


We’re proud to reintroduce the Kids Online Safety Act to change this unacceptable status quo. With bipartisan momentum and support from advocates, experts, parents, and young people, we are pushing to make this legislation law — and kids’ online safety, not Big Tech profits, the default.