WASHINGTON — Dozens of parents dressed in black and holding posters of their dead children took to Capitol Hill this week for an explosive Senate hearing with CEOs of major technology companies on Wednesday.
On Thursday, after X, Meta, Snap, Discord and TikTok executives left, they stayed behind to personally lobby members of Congress because they said they could help prevent the tragedies experienced by more families.
The Children’s Online Safety Act, or KOSA for short, was passed two years ago by D-Conn. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., were introduced by the duo. If passed and enacted, the law will give children and their parents more safeguards and tools to protect their well-being online. The bill requires online platforms to prevent or reduce the promotion of self-harm, eating disorders, sexual exploitation and substance abuse by minors under the age of 16.
Traveling parents from around the country, mostly mothers, said they saw real momentum toward the bill’s passage after Wednesday’s hearing.
“It’s a David and Goliath story,” her son David, 16, who died by suicide after months of cyberbullying on Instagram, told NBC News on Thursday.
“We’re fighting against what we’re doing with a billion-dollar lobbying campaign. Our children matter and we are sick of it [Big Tech] to put all these people in place to crush what we’re doing here,” he said.
The bill would also default app controls to the strictest option to protect minors, allow parents to control their children’s privacy and account settings, and include the option to “opt out” of algorithmic recommendations. Platforms will be required to undergo annual independent audits that identify risks of harming minors and compliance with the law.
But the bill has faced criticism, particularly after a video of Blackburn proposing it can be used to censor transgender content it went viral. Others worry that the bill will be used Censoring online speech far beyond the offensive and harmful content these parents hope to target.
Blackburn legislative director Jamie Susskind he said previously, the senator spoke of “two separate issues” and his comments were “taken out of context. KOSA will not target or censor any individual or community.”
Blumenthal said he and Blackburn believe their bill could be the first major piece of legislation passed by Congress in years to regulate the Internet “in part because of the parents who mobilized to come here with the courage and strength to tell their stories of grief and pain. ,” noting that the momentum is “really different” now.
Blackburn agreed, predicting: “This will be the first piece to cross the finish line.”
Joann Bogard, whose 15-year-old son Mason died in 2019 after trying a viral social media challenge, was among the parents lobbying members Thursday. She and others held up photos of their children behind tech CEOs at a court hearing the day before to make their case for KOSA. CEO of Meta apologized to Mark Zuckerberg.
“This is the strongest bill. It will give parents the tools they need to better protect our children online. This would put that responsibility on the social media companies, so they would have to fix their flawed products. And this requires them to be transparent,” said Bogard. “We need a bill that does a lot, not just a part of it. We need it very much.”
The senators, parents and advocates rallying to support the legislation know it won’t be easy.
“These people have a lot of power in the political world,” Blumenthal said, referring to Big Tech companies that spend hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying Congress to block federal regulation. OpenSecrets. “The workers they can promote and the disinformation they can promote and the campaign contributions they can make will prevail in all business-as-usual ways. It cannot be business as usual. This reason is very important.”
The legislation got a boost this week when Snap, which owns Snapchat, became the first major tech platform to support KOSA. Microsoft later followed suit when he became vice chairman and president placed He approved the legislation on X. Company X CEO Linda Yaccarino during Wednesday’s hearing expressed his support for the bill first time. Meta, Discord, and TikTok didn’t get heavy.
Opponents of the legislation, including civil rights groups and some lawmakers, say its definition of harm is too broad, leading to possible censorship of content promoting politically polarizing issues, gender equality or abortion rights.
U.S. Representative Maxwell Frost of Florida told NBC News that, “While congressional leaders and our government have a duty to protect children online, he opposes KOSA.
Frost said the bill “contains huge, harmful loopholes that will empower states with extremist leaders, like in my state of Florida, to use provisions in this legislation to vilify and erase the existence of LGBTQ+ and especially trans people. It keeps people online, the same currently threatens our right to privacy by requiring everyone to upload an ID to verify their age to go online.”
Blumenthal said this week that senators are open to changing some of the language to get more lawmakers on board.
“We are continuing our discussions with various stakeholders regarding specific provisions of the bill,” Blumenthal said during a press conference Tuesday. “There are some nips and tucks that we’re going to do in response to the concerns, the very legitimate points that a lot of these groups are making. And we hope to have the final version in a very short time.”
“Children’s online safety is a priority” for this year’s legislative agenda, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D.N.Y., told NBC News.
“While we work to pass the supplement and secure government funding in the coming weeks, Leader Schumer will continue to work with the sponsors of the online security bills to secure the necessary support,” they said.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call or text 988 or live chat to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. 988lifeline.org. You can also visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional support.