Senators Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Protect Kids from Social Media Addiction, Harm, and Abuse

On February 14, 2022, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security, jointly introduced the “Kids Online Safety Act.”

This historic legislation was introduced after a series of dramatic hearings before the Subcommittee demonstrated the clear and present danger that social media addiction poses to American youth’s mental health and physical security. In October 2021, Facebook’s former officer Frances Haugen shocked the nation with riveting testimony. She reported that the company had known for years that its products caused physical and emotional harm to users who were minors but intentionally declined to make changes to its products to ensure safe use for kids. The testimony by Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri drew bipartisan condemnation for the unreasonably dangerous attributes of Instagram. 

Despite their partisan differences, Senators Blumenthal and Blackburn found common ground as parents deeply concerned about the mental health crisis engulfing American teenagers. Together, they put partisanship aside and crafted legislation to protect American children from the most egregious defects of social media platforms and empower their parents to exercise control over their kid’s online activity.   

Description of Bill

The Kids Online Safety Act furnishes parents and families with the information and tools to protect their children’s mental and physical health and personal security. The bill would require social media platforms to put the safety of children over profits and curb the destructive effects of social media on American kids.  

  • Require social media platforms to provide minors with options to protect their data
  • Allow minors and their parents to disable algorithms that direct young users to harmful content and addict them to social media platforms
  • Require social platforms to enable the strongest security settings by default 
  • Provide parents with control over their children’s social media activity and warnings of harmful behaviors or content
  • Provide children and parents with a dedicated channel to report harm to kids within the platform 
  • Subject social media platforms to annual audits by independent experts to measure risks to minors and  assess whether the platform is taking meaningful steps to prevent those harms
  • Require social media companies to allow academic researchers and non-profit organizations to access their data to research ongoing damages to their minor users and identify safety measures to access these hazards. 

The Kids Online Safety Act has been endorsed by Common Sense Media, the American Psychological Association, the 5Rights Foundation, American Compass, the Internet Accountability Project, American Principles Project, and the Digital Progress Institute.

Legislative Hurdles Ahead

The Kids Online Safety Act represents a historic bipartisan commitment to combat the national mental health crisis facing America’s youth. However, many steps must be taken and pitfalls averted before the bill becomes law. After being formally introduced, the Kids Online Safety Act will be considered by the full Senate Commerce Committee, which will be able to offer amendments to the legislation. If a majority of the Senators on the Commerce Committee approve the final bill, it will be reported out to the full Senate. However, before the Kids Online Safety Act can be brought to the Senate floor, 60 Senators must agree to even debate the bill. Once the debate begins, the bill can be amended and ultimately adopted by a majority of the Senators.  

At the same time, the Senate considers the Kids Online Safety Act, the House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce of the Committee on Energy and Commerce will consider a similar bill.  Like in the Senate, the bill will need favorable votes by a majority of the Committee before being taken up by the full House.  If a majority of the House members vote for the bill, the House and Senate will appoint members to conduct a conference to reconcile the bills into a single piece of legislation.  The Senate and House will then vote on the final legislation one final time.  If a majority of both government bodies approve the bill, it’s presented to the President, who can either sign or veto the legislation. Given the President’s expressed desire to pass legislation to protect kids from social media addiction, it’s very unlikely he would veto the bill.  However, there are many steps along the way before the bill is signed into law.