Senators from both sides of the aisle came together Wednesday to propose a bill that aims to address the corrosive effects of social media on children’s mental health.
Led by U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, and Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Tennessee, the measure would give parents of children under 16 new tools to restrict screen time and protect privacy. Notably the measure would provide parents and children with the ability to limit or ban some content. It would also allow users to opt out of features, such as auto play, that are designed to keep people hooked on social media platforms, and rewards for spending time on a site.
The Kids Online Safety Act is the product of hours of hearings held by the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Data Security, which is led by Blumenthal.
“What we’ve heard… at our hearings and from direct talks with parents are harrowing, haunting stories of heartbreaking loss, destructive content to children, addictive dark places that are the result of big tech driving toxic content at kids using black box algorithms that are little understood by parents or children,” Blumenthal said at a press conference Wednesday outlining the legislation.
“What we’re doing in this bill is empowering those children and their parents to take back control and … power over their lives online,” he said.
At a hearing before the subcommittee in December, an executive with Instagram — which, like Facebook, is owned by Meta — proposed a number of its own solutions including an industry panel to enforce safety standards. Those ideas were roundly rejected by lawmakers.
“We can no longer count on social media platforms to police or monitor themselves or protect children,” said Blumenthal. “They’ve betrayed that trust. In fact, they’ve been in denial about the problems that they have created.”
The bill, crafted by Blumenthal and Blackburn, empowers the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general to hold the companies accountable.
In October the Senate panel heard testimony from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, who released thousands of internal documents to government regulators and Wall Street Journal reporters showing that the company knew about the damage its projects, primarily Instagram, inflict on adolescent mental health.