The recent epidemic of loneliness and isolation in our youth has been shown time and time again to be at least partially driven by our social media platforms. The goal of the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), a major piece of bipartisan legislation aimed at expanding protections for children online, is to lessen the deleterious effects of these platforms. The massive bill now has widespread support in the Senate though its future is still uncertain.

Originally introduced in 2022 by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the bill now has the backing of 62 Senators, making it likely to pass the Senate if brought to a vote.

This overwhelming bipartisan support reflects the demands from advocacy groups, experts, and especially parents and young people themselves who want action from Congress to make the internet safer. This is a much appreciated change as the pain and suffering brought about by these platforms in kids was proven beyond a shadow of a doubt years ago with countless studies and yet essentially nothing has been done to prevent it.

What does KOSA Aim to Achieve?

The legislation seeks to hold social media companies more accountable for the harm their platforms can cause to minors. Based on the current text, the law would:

  • Require platforms to provide minors (and their parents) the ability to protect their information, disable addictive product features, and opt out of personalized recommendations driven by algorithms.
  • Give parents new controls over their children’s accounts to monitor activity and limit time spent online. It also establishes a way for parents and teachers to easily report harmful incidents to companies.
  • Create a legal “duty of care” for online platforms to take steps for preventing or mitigating harm in areas like the promotion of suicide, eating disorders, sexual exploitation, and more.
  • Mandate annual independent audits analyzing risks to minors and evaluating if companies are addressing those risks appropriately. This provides transparency around whether meaningful progress is happening.

The updates announced this week further clarified aspects of the bill related to enforcement and the scope of the duty of care provision. This helped assuage concerns from LGBTQ+ rights advocates about potential censorship issues.

Several groups like the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD had previously opposed KOSA, worrying that politically motivated attorneys general would weaponize the new powers to censor helpful LGBTQ information. However, they just confirmed that they will not stand in the way of its passage in light of these new revisions.

Rallying Support from Lawmakers Increases Odds of Approval

In addition to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) signing on as a new co-sponsor, Senators Blumenthal and Blackburn cited growing momentum for KOSA.

“This overwhelming bipartisan support for the Kids Online Safety Act — 62 total co-sponsors, Democrats and Republicans — reflects the powerful voices of young people and parents who want Congress to act”, a joint statement from Blumenthal and Blackburn reads.

“The recent watershed hearing with Big Tech CEOs showcased the urgent need for reform. With new changes to strengthen the bill and growing support, we should seize this moment to take action. We must listen to the kids, parents, experts, and advocates, and finally hold Big Tech accountable by passing the Kids Online Safety Act into law”, the two senators emphasized.

The rising support for greater online protections for our youth follows a major senate hearing on online safety for children where Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Meta, apologized to the families harmed by his platforms’ failure to protect their children.

Other notable new supporters include Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT), who said: “Social media is making our young people more vulnerable to cyberbullying, addiction, and long-term mental health challenges. Large tech companies have failed to institute measures to adequately protect children and teenagers from these hazards…”

Utah Governor Spencer Cox also endorsed the legislation, as did dozens of advocacy organizations working on issues ranging from LGBTQ+ rights to suicide prevention. They argue that KOSA is urgently needed to address the crisis of social media’s negative impacts on young people’s mental health.

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Statistics on Teen Internet and Social Media Use & Abuse

Behind this groundswell of support, there is a boatload of sobering data that shows just how embedded social media has become in young people’s lives today – and the damages resulting from it. These are some of the most alarming statistics that justify KOSA in the eyes of lawmakers and advocacy groups:

  • Children from 8 to 12 years old spend an average of 5 hours per day online and on social media. Teenagers from 13 to 17 log over 8 hours of screen time every day.
  • Teens who spend over 3 hours per day using social media face twice the risk of suffering poor mental health outcomes like anxiety and depression according to multiple studies.
  • Teenage girls who spent 2-3 hours on social media daily at 13 have a higher risk of suicide as young adults.
  • Nearly half of teenagers said that using social media makes them feel worse about themselves.
  • 60% of teen girls reported being contacted by adult strangers online in ways that made them feel uncomfortable. Predatory direct messaging is rampant.
  • In another poll, nearly 50% of teenage TikTok users felt “addicted” to the app, using it more than they intended each week. Endless scrolling is incredibly hard to put down.

pew research center findings regarding social media addiction

These statistics are only a tiny part of the supporting data that shows

Advocates argue that the data shows an urgent need for guardrails and oversight in the tech industry, especially for younger users who are more susceptible to harm. KOSA aims to address these issues directly. Whether it would be effective at helping solve these issues is unknown. In fact, it may not even pass in the end.

What Happens Next?

With growing bipartisan consensus in the Senate, KOSA seems likely to pass the chamber if scheduled for a floor vote. However, companion legislation has not yet been introduced in the GOP-controlled House, which remains focused on advancing broader data privacy bills. If the Senate passes KOSA, it could pressure the House to follow suit or face accusations of failing families and kids.

Voting against reasonable bills that are intended to help prevent mental illness in children isn’t exactly a good look so it would likely have a decent chance of passing if it were brought to a vote in the House as well. Though trickery such as the Committee chair refusing to bring it to the floor to a vote is always possible.

Some predict that tech companies like Meta Platforms (META) and Snapchat (SNAP) will lobby aggressively to try blocking KOSA, fearing that the level of accountability that comes with it could threaten their business models, which are primarily built on increasing user engagement.

However, lawmakers including Senators Blumenthal and Blackburn believe that the tide of public opinion is shifting. Parents are increasingly recognizing social media’s role in decreasing teen’s mental health and are actively supporting regulations on this matter.

If KOSA becomes law, it would signal a major change – Congress finally taking real action on long-simmering issues around Big Tech and societal wellbeing. Given years of gridlock and regulatory gaps around the tech sector, experts say that such intervention is long overdue. The harm to teens and kids is evidenced by hard data and that might be finally spurring lawmakers to pass meaningful protections.