Social media platforms may soon need to acquiesce to the demands of Congress and upset parents.
The prospect comes after the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee called for testimony by Snap, X, TikTok, Discord, and Meta.
As their executives responded to angry questioning, parents stood silently behind them, holding up photographs of their children whose deaths are related to using the platforms.
“You have blood on your hands,” ranking member Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) accused Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg as the hearing began. “You have a product that’s killing people.”
Later, after a challenge by Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO.), Zuckerberg turned around and apologized to grieving parents.
Even at the hearing, Zuckerberg continued to maintain there no evidence proving his products harm children’s mental health.
Support Surges for KOSA
Days after the hearing, 15 senators joined 47 others in bi-partisan support of the Kids Online Safety Act.
KOSA would create a “duty of care” that services like social media, video games and messaging apps would have to take reasonable measures to prevent harms to child users.
Platforms would also be required to place all privacy settings at the highest level by default. Kids and teens could also turn off data-driven recommendation algorithms. Yearly independent audits would assess risks to minors.
New co-sponsors include Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)—a clear sign the bill may get to a vote by the full Senate.
“The recent watershed hearing with Big Tech CEOs showcased the urgent need for reform,” KOSA lead Senate sponsors Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said in a statement. “With new changes to strengthen the bill and growing support, we should seize this moment to take action.”
In a Health Advisory, the U. S. Surgeon General states that social media is a contributor to the current crisis in children’s mental health.
Passing KOSA has been a longtime goal of Fairplay, a childrens tech safety advocacy group.
“This bill is incredibly strong and would be game-changing in disrupting social media’s toxic business model and forcing them to prioritize the safety, well-being, and privacy of children,” Fairplay executive director Josh Golin said in an interview.
Parents Become Tech Activists
Before the Senate hearing, bereaved parents joined forces to launch ParentsSOS, a website where they tell the stories of their lost children.
ParentsSOS has an online form where U.S. voters can connect with their Congress members to urge them to pass KOSA.
Children primarily use social media on their smartphones.
Unfettered access to phones at school can distract students and teachers. The phones also channel the FOMO, social comparisons, and bullying that may occur on social media platforms.
Advice for Talking with Schools about Technology
Some parents aren’t waiting for new laws to address harmful technology.
Kailan Carr, a former teacher and mother of two from Bakersfield, California, convinced her public school system to eliminate the online math program, Prodigy.
After watching her first-grade son use the program, she saw it had very little math instruction. It was more of an addictive video game which pressured students to buy paid subscriptions.
“It serves up a big plate of manipulation and distraction in the guise of learning,” states Carr.
She marshalled a few other parents to join her to talk with her son’s school superintendent and head of curriculum. A few months later, the school system stopped using Prodigy.
Carr encourages all parents to be speak up on behalf of their children.
“As a parent, there is a delicate balance between raising your concerns and making sure you’re not telling teachers and administrators how to do their jobs,” Carr wrote in a post for Fairplay. But, with some preparation and tact, she says, “You can make a difference!”
Her suggestions for success:
Be kind and polite. Your words will be heard more clearly.
Go with a group of like-minded parents. There is power in numbers.
Remember you are planting seeds. “You may not see immediate change, but you are putting new thoughts in their head that may develop into something later on,” Carr says.
Request follow-up and be grateful. Ask to be updated about what they decide and thank them for their valuable time.
Fairplay also has a list of key questions to ask at your child’s school about screen time and technology use.
New Picture Book offers Screen Time Alternatives
Carr has also written an enticing new picture book about what children can do instead of spending time online.
In Screens Away, Time to Play!, illustrator Rebecca Sinclair’s delightful art and Carr’s simple messages combine for a fun, meaningful, and totally fresh experience families can enjoy together.
To help older kids understand the value of device management, offline activities, sleeping well, and other durable practices, check out the Durable Human post, How to Boost Children’s Mental Health.
About the author:
Jenifer Joy Madden is a mom of three, certified Digital Wellness Educator, lifelong health journalist, and the founder of DurableHuman.com. She is the author of The Durable Human Manifesto and How to Be a Durable Human, and host of the online parenting classroom, Durable U.