Parents, Activists Rally to Protect Child Safety Online | #childsafety | #kids | #chldern | #parents | #schoolsafey

CW: This article references and discusses the exploitation of children and mental health struggles. Please refer to the end of the article for on- and off-campus resources. 

Parents, activists and college students alike rallied on Capitol Hill Jan. 31, marking a day of heated testimonies before the Senate Judiciary Committee calling on Congress to pass legislation protecting children’s safety online and on social media platforms.

The assembled crowd included student and youth advocates, parents who have lost children to cyberbullying and other social media-induced mental health struggles, U.S. senators and other political leaders. Speakers at the rally discussed the need to provide legislation that holds companies like Meta and TikTok accountable for the protection of minors on their applications. 

Following 33 states’ bipartisan collaboration to sue Meta, Raúl Torrez, the New Mexico attorney general, filed a Dec. 5 lawsuit against the company and Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Meta, the company that operates Instagram and Facebook, for neglecting to prevent the sexual exploitation of children.

Maren Fagan/The Hoya | On Jan. 31, parents, students and activists rallied at the Capitol Building to call for greater protection for children and minors on social media and the internet following a Senate hearing about children’s safety online with five Big Tech CEOs, including Mark Zuckerberg of Meta and Shou Zi Chew of TikTok.

At the event, Torrez said he initiated the lawsuit with the goal of holding big tech CEOs, who continue their inaction on the issue, accountable for children’s safety on their platforms. 

“These CEOs have sought yet again to reassure policymakers and parents, but they aren’t living up to these promises,” Torrez said at the rally. “We are in a position, hopefully now, to demand real accountability from it.”

The organizations involved in organizing the rally included Accountable Tech, an organization that believes tech companies focus solely on profit and growth and create societal harm, and Fairplay, a group that strives to support children in an increasingly digitized world. 

Ava Smithing, the director of advocacy and operations at the Young People’s Alliance, another organization present at the rally that aims to fight social media algorithms that adversely affect youth, said using social media as a child negatively altered her mental health.

She added that this impact represents the need to create change in big tech policy. 

“I was one of those teenage girls on Instagram with an eating disorder that you read about on your LinkedIn feed or heard about in that one movie,” Smithing said. “I’m here today because it was all true. I did compare myself to the girls that were forced onto my feed. I’ll always know how many calories are in a handful of almonds thanks to the posts that taught me, and because there’s always a part of me that will wonder whether or not the number on that scale is too high.” 

“But I’m also here today to tip the scales back into balance,” Smithing added. 

The rally took place on the same day the Senate Judiciary Committee, the committee of the Senate responsible for supervising the Department of Justice (DOJ), heard from the CEOs of social media companies, including Zuckerberg; Linda Yaccarino, CEO of X, formerly known as Twitter; Shou Zi Chew, CEO of TikTok; Evan Spiegel, CEO of Snap, the parent company of Snapchat; and Jason Citron, CEO of Discord. 

Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), a longtime proponent of ensuring children’s protection and privacy online, said the CEOs’ testimonies — several of which occurred after repeated refusals to speak by company executives — were filled with outrageous excuses and empty promises.

“After years of inaction and refusing to confront the problems of big tech, which they created, their CEO showed up today with even more excuses. For far too long, major social media platforms have deliberately and repeatedly violated the privacy of young people working to keep their eyes glued to the screens,” Markey said at the rally. “Study after study has shown the Big Tech’s pernicious practices are continuing and contributing to this crisis.”

Darius Wagner (CAS ’27), the director of advocacy for Georgetown University College Democrats (GUCD), said he attended the rally along with GUCD president Asher Maxwell (CAS ’26) after the rally’s organizers invited GUCD and other student groups to participate. 

Wagner said students and young people are the people who suffer the consequences of Big Tech and their dangerous social media practices. 

“Social media is impacting our young children, it’s impacting the health of our democracy and it’s fueling division amongst our country,” Wagner told The Hoya. “I think Georgetown students in particular have to pay close attention to this issue because it will inform nearly every sector of our society in the future. And if we’re not careful, as we’ve seen before, social media can be used as a dangerous tool to harm others and institutions.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) co-sponsored the bipartisan Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), which would require social media companies to provide measures that protect minors from harmful material, such as cyberbullying, predatory marketing and data collection.

At the rally, Blumenthal thanked the attendees for their constant support and said their determination and compassion for the cause would ultimately lead them to prevail in the enactment of measures to protect child safety. 

“I can guarantee you, we will win this fight for the Kids Online Safety Act because you are inspiring my colleagues as you did us from the very first moment that I met many of you. I am profoundly grateful for your courage, your persistence and your perseverance,” Blumenthal said.

Since the committee met to hear testimony from advocates for protecting children online, it has advanced bipartisan bills to meet the aim of protecting children. One such effort is the Strengthening Transparency and Obligations to Protect Children Suffering from Abuse and Mistreatment Act (STOP CSAM), which supports victims by providing administrative penalties for failure to remove imagery depicting child abuse material.

Similarly, the REPORT Act establishes federal regulations for reporting crimes involving sexual exploitation of children. However, KOSA and STOP CSAM both have only been introduced to the Senate and have yet to move to the floor for a vote.

Blumenthal told the parents and activists that channeling their grief into advocacy has sustained the movement and will continue to do so throughout the bills’ lengthy legislative process, which he vowed to see through. 

“Your grace and dignity and the power of your turning your pain into something positive inspires us always,” Blumenthal said. “Today is not the end, it’s not the beginning — it’s the beginning of the end of this fight, and we will win it with your help and your support.”

Resources: On-campus resources include Health Education Services (202-687-8949) and Counseling and Psychiatric Services (202-687-6985). Additional off-campus resources include the Crisis Text Line (text 741741).




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