WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined 27 colleagues in introducing the Kids Online Safety Act, comprehensive bipartisan legislation to protect children online.
The Kids Online Safety Act provides young people and parents with the tools, safeguards, and transparency they need to protect against online harms. The bill requires social media platforms to by default enable a range of protections against addictive design and algorithmic recommendations. It also requires privacy protections, dedicated channels to report harm, and independent audits by experts and academic researchers to ensure that social media platforms are taking meaningful steps to address risks to kids.
“Experts are clear: kids and teens are growing up in a toxic and unregulated social media landscape that promotes bullying, eating disorders, and mental health struggles,” said Sen. Warner. “The Kids Online Safety Act would give kids and parents the long-overdue ability to control some of the least transparent and most damaging aspects of social media, creating a safer and more humane online environment.”
Reporting has shown that social media companies have proof that their platforms contribute to mental health issues in children and teens, and that young people have demonstrated a precipitous rise in mental health crises over the last decade.
Specifically, the Kids Online Safety Act would:
· Require that social media platforms provide minors with options to protect their information, disable addictive product features, and opt out of algorithmic recommendations. Platforms would be required to enable the strongest settings by default.
· Give parents new controls to help support their children and identify harmful behaviors, and provides parents and children with a dedicated channel to report harms to kids to the platform.
· Create a responsibility for social media platforms to prevent and mitigate harms to minors, such as promotion of suicide, eating disorders, substance abuse, sexual exploitation, and unlawful products for minors (e.g. gambling and alcohol).
· Require social media platforms to perform an annual independent audit that assesses the risks to minors, their compliance with this legislation, and whether the platform is taking meaningful steps to prevent those harms.
· Provide academic and public interest organizations with access to critical datasets from social media platforms to foster research regarding harms to the safety and well-being of minors.
Sen. Warner, a former tech entrepreneur, has been a vocal advocate for Big Tech accountability and building a safer online environment. He has introduced several pieces of legislation aimed at addressing these issues, including the RESTRICT Act, which would comprehensively address the ongoing threat posed by technology and social media platforms from foreign adversaries; the SAFE TECH Act, which would reform Section 230 and allow social media companies to be held accountable for enabling cyber-stalking, online harassment, and discrimination on social media platforms; and the Honest Ads Act, which would require online political advertisements to adhere to the same disclaimer requirements as TV, radio, and print ads.
The one-page summary of the bill can be found here, the section-by-section summary can be found here, and the full text of the Senate bill can be found here.