Sen. Schumer Vows to Get Kids Online Safety Act Passed

Sen. Schumer Vows to Get Kids Online Safety Act Passed
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on June 5, 2024. (Kent Nishimura/Getty Images)

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has vowed to get the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) over the finish line in the Senate.

The bill is designed to establish safeguards and accountability measures to protect children from the harms associated with social media and other online platforms, though some opponents are concerned about censorship.

Mr. Schumer on June 20 initiated a floor discussion with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), emphasizing the importance of KOSA and his commitment as a co-sponsor.

“I have personally met with the families that have been harmed, I have seen their terrible stories and I am committed, completely committed, to work with them to get KOSA across the finish line,” Mr. Schumer said on the Senate floor.

“Last month, I put together a plan to get KOSA done through unanimous consent for a time agreement on the floor. I personally helped resolve issues and mitigated unintended consequences of the bill. That effort reduced the opposition but there are still holdouts.”

Mr. Schumer said that although there are still holdouts, senators “must pursue a different legislative path to get this done.”

At the same time, a group of parents this week sent a letter to Mr. Schumer urging him to do all he can to pass the bill.

The parents are a part of a group called Parents for Safe Online Spaces (ParentsSOS).

“We write to you today as parents who have lost children as a result of online harms and who are determined to ensure that no other family experiences what we have endured,” the group wrote.

“For the past two years, we have advocated tirelessly for the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), which will hold social media companies accountable for their deliberate design choices that harm young people.”

Mr. Blumenthal highlighted the bill’s importance to the numerous parents and young individuals that he said have been affected by online harms.

“The bill is responsive to the countless stories that we’ve heard from bereaved parents and young people about the terrible consequences these platforms have had on their lives,” Mr. Blumenthal said in his remarks. The bill, introduced by Mr. Blumenthal, has 68 co-sponsors.

Mr. Schumer said bipartisan support, especially with Sen. Marsha Blackburn’s (R-Tenn.) help, has helped it pass unanimously through the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

In general, KOSA seeks to establish legal standards to protect minors and requires platforms to mitigate online harms more effectively.

Some groups have expressed opposition, however, arguing the measure would increase surveillance and restrict access to information.

What’s the Bill About?

A key provision of the bill is the establishment of a “duty of care” for covered platforms, which requires platforms to introduce features to prevent or mitigate a range of dangers to minors, including sexual exploitation of children, substance abuse, promotion of suicide, or advertisement of products like alcohol and tobacco.

The bill also seeks to protect the personal data of minors, requiring social media platforms to enable the strongest privacy settings for children by default. Platforms are also required to provide minors with options to protect their information and opt out of personalized recommendations.

Parents would be given new controls to spot harmful behaviors and report them by means of a dedicated channel in order to help protect children.

Platforms would also be subjected to independent audits to assess their impact on the well-being of minor users, helping parents and policymakers gauge whether they’re taking meaningful steps to address risks to children.

Critics, like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) which promotes internet freedoms, have argued that the bill would restrict access to information and make government officials the arbiters of what young people can see online.

“This isn’t safety, it’s censorship,” EFF says in a call to action that encourages opponents of the measure to contact Congressional representatives.

The group also says that because platforms would be liable for failing to block content deemed harmful, they are likely to adopt a heavy-handed approach to filtering, putting inordinately large amounts of information beyond the reach of minors and extending its blocks to legal speech.

Mr. Blumenthal disputes the characterization of censorship, arguing in a fact sheet that the bill “would not censor, block, or remove any content from the internet.”

Further, he insists that the bill does not expose platforms to undue liability as it does not amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides baseline immunity to online platforms for third-party content.

Also, under the bill, platforms are specifically exempted from liability for providing content to young users when the user has searched for that content.

Parents Plead for Help

The letter from ParentsSOS underscores the parents’ determination to prevent other families from experiencing similar tragedies, and they referenced meetings held on May 9 and June 5, in which Mr. Schumer reiterated his support and commitment to holding a vote by June 20, although that commitment did not bear fruit.

In a post on X, the group noted, “June 20 has come and gone, and there’s no sign of a Senate floor vote on the Kids Online Safety Act. @SenSchumer, we beg you to bring KOSA to a vote. It’s time to #PassKOSA and protect kids online.”

The parents emphasized the bipartisan support for KOSA, noting that it has enough support to overcome a filibuster and pass in the Senate.

“There is widespread recognition that this is an issue that must be addressed now—just this week, the United States Surgeon General urged Congress to take action to counteract social media’s negative health effects on kids,” the parents group wrote.

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, earlier in the week, made the case for adding warning labels to social media sites to inform users that there is evidence linking these sites to risks to adolescents’ mental health.

“It is time to require a surgeon general’s warning label on social media platforms, stating that social media is associated with significant mental health harms for adolescents,” he wrote in an opinion piece published by The New York Times on June 17.

He further proposed that labels similar to those on tobacco products and alcoholic beverages could increase awareness among social media users and their guardians.

“A surgeon general’s warning label, which requires congressional action, would regularly remind parents and adolescents that social media has not been proved safe,” he wrote.

From The Epoch Times