Lawmakers take a hard look at the dangers teens & kids can face online

Senators want to update the proposed Kids Online Safety Act
Published: Feb. 14, 2023 at 4:59 PM CST
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are eager to discuss the future of social media and the internet as they seek to suppress the dangers children can face online.

On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the issue that some lawmakers call a ‘public health emergency.’ They say what kids find while surfing the web can contribute to depression, eating disorders, cyberbullying, and thoughts of suicide.

“The American consumer is virtually unprotected from the adverse effects of social media. That needs to, and I think, will change,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) spoke at length about the bipartisan legislation they want Congress to pass. The bipartisan Kids Online Safety Act would require additional online security tools and force social media companies to rethink their algorithms.

“Big tech has relentlessly, ruthlessly, pumped up profits by purposefully exploiting kids and parents pain,” said Sen. Blumenthal, adding, “we have to give kids and parents, yes both kids and parents, the tools, transperency, and guardrails they need to take back control over their own lives.”

Sen. Blackburn told the panel, “it is almost as if these social media platforms are operating in the days of the Wild West. And, anything goes. And when these children are on these platforms, they’re the product. They’re the product. Their data is taken. That data is monetized and then it is sold to the advertisers who are going to feed more information to these children.”

A recent Pew Research Center poll shows 46-percent of kids between 13 and 17 have experienced cyberbullying. Oregon mother, Kristin Bride testified to lawmakers at the hearing about the cyberbullying that she said led to the death of her son Carson. Bride is now a member of the Council for Responsible Social Media.

“I woke to the complete shock and horror that Carson had hung himself in our garage while we slept. In the weeks that followed, we learned that Carson had been viciously cyber-bullied,” she said.

Emma Lembke, founder of the Log Off Movement & fellow member of the Council for Responsible Social Media, also spoke about the impact social media had on her life. She created her first social media accounts in the 6th grade.

“As a 12-year-old, I was constantly comparing myself to others, quantifying my worth through likes, comments, and followers. And, as a young woman I was really exposed to unrealistic body standards that damaged my sense of self and led me to disordered eating,” said Lembke. She said finally in the 9th grade she asked herself why she allowed apps to have so much control over her life.

“That breaking point led to a very long and difficult process of rebuilding my healthy relationship with tech that has led me here today to advocate not just for the healthier usage of tech but for lawmakers to regulate these companies to build safer online spaces for the next generation,” she said.

Concerned lawmakers believe a recent CDC report is evidence of the harm social media can cause.

It reported nearly 3 in 5 teenage girls feel persistently sad or hopeless.

If someone in your life is experiencing thoughts of suicide, you’re urged to call 988.