Rein in Big Tech for the sake of our children | #childsafety | #kids | #chldern | #parents | #schoolsafey

The mental health and physical well-being of children is taking a big hit as a result of social media’s dangerous practices that push harmful content on young users.

Recent reports highlighting the youth mental health crisis cannot be ignored. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy recently issued an advisory warning that social media presents a “profound risk of harm to kids.”

A report cited in his advisory found adolescents are exposed to “double the risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes” after spending more than three hours per day on social media. The concern is widespread: Dozens of states are suing Meta, claiming that its Instagram and Facebook platforms are addictive and harming young people’s mental health.

The overwhelming pressure and negative influences in the ever-evolving digital world have resulted in a public health crisis landing our young ones into emergency rooms and overwhelming medical professionals.

Arturo Bejar is the latest Facebook whistleblower offering internal documents that show Meta knows kids are being harmed by its products. He recently testified before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee about how algorithms for Facebook and Instagram push content to teens that promotes bullying, drug abuse, eating disorders and self-harm. He said that when he raised the flag about teen harm to Meta’s top executives, they failed to act. According to a lawsuit filed by the Massachusetts attorney general, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg ignored the executives’ requests to tackle child safety concerns.

The harms span beyond mental health: Landmark data from the U.K. found that children who have shared feelings of vulnerability online are at higher risk of being targeted and groomed by offenders preying on these same vulnerabilities.

Meanwhile, social media companies continue to use algorithms to boost traffic, leading to increased revenue that is reinvested in more advanced algorithms, resulting in the ongoing Big Tech pattern of putting profits over safety.

Congress must take proactive steps to better prevent online harm to children by mandating commonsense legal solutions in addition to public awareness campaigns requiring the multibillion-dollar Big Tech industry to help remedy this growing health crisis — much like Big Tobacco, and the resulting laws and massive public education campaigns that came after the 1964 surgeon general’s warning that smoking was harmful to one’s health.

Well-documented research regarding online threats to children’s safety underscores the need for Congress to respond. The Kids Online Safety Act, co-sponsored by Sens. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican, and Richard Blumenthal, California Republican, is an essential piece of bipartisan legislation designed to safeguard children and is awaiting Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer to call for a floor vote this session. The measure would provide parents with the tools, safeguards and transparency they need to protect their children from online harm.

The bill would require social media platforms to put the well-being of children first, ensuring an environment that is safe by default.

It’s crucial to address common misconceptions about the Kids Online Safety Act: It is not an infringement on parental or family rights to govern how their children use social media, or about content moderation or the Communications and Decency Act’s Section 230, a federal law that provides immunity for online services with respect to third-party user-generated content.

On the contrary, The bill empowers parents by focusing on product design, ensuring that platforms do not continually push harmful content by configuring algorithms to intentionally hook kids.

The legislation addresses concerns raised by the LBGTQ community clarifying that LBGTQ youth, an audience vulnerable to bullying and predation, are better protected on social media platforms and can access vital information and support resources.

The importance of the bill becomes even more apparent when we consider the heartbreaking stories of parents whose children have been harmed or even lost their lives due to the negative impacts of social media.

Bark Technologies’ 2022 annual report revealed that 62.4% of tweens and 82.2% of teens encountered nudity or sexual content; 23.6% of tweens and 44.1% of teens engaged in conversations about depression; and 35.7% of tweens and 64.3% of teens were involved in a self-harm or suicidal situation. The report also noted a 2022 trend that Instagram was flagged as the top app for body image concerns.

While nearly half of the Senate has joined as co-sponsors of the Kids Online Safety Act, Big Tech lobbyists continue to fight this important bill, just as they have done with other legislation that seeks to hold the multibillion-dollar technology industry responsible and accountable to do its part to protect youth online by putting their safety over corporate profits.

The surgeon general and Congress have spoken. Parents and state attorneys general have spoken. It’s time to rein in Big Tech. Protecting kids online is a nonpartisan effort that deserves wide bipartisan support.

It’s time to prioritize our children’s safety and mental health, and the Kids Online Safety Act is a significant step in the right direction.

• Donna Rice Hughes is CEO and president of Enough Is Enough, a national nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that has led the fight to make the internet safer for children and families since 1994.

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