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Blackburn Introduces Bill to Protect Kids from Harmful Social Media Content

May 19, 2023

As concerns grow over the potential impact that harmful social media content is having on the psychological health of minors, a bipartisan bill has been introduced in the Senate that would require social media platforms to increase their built-in safety features and give parents increased control over what their children are exposed to.

A recent poll revealed that 50% of parents with children younger than 18 “feel their child(ren)’s mental health has suffered during the past 12 months because of social media use.” The poll further showed that just over one third (35%) of parents felt that social media use had a positive effect on their child, an eight-point drop from when the same survey was taken last year.

Studies have also found that a large percentage of the content populating social media platforms is explicit in nature. A Parents Television and Media Council (PTC) study revealed that media companies like HBO, Netflix, and Hulu appear to target minors with adult-rated violent and sexually explicit content. Another study by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) found that “within as few as 2.6 minutes after joining” the TikTok app posing as a 13-year-old, its “algorithm recommended suicidal content. The report showed that eating disorder content was recommended within as few as 8 minutes.”

On May 2, Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced the Kids Online Safety Act that would require social media platforms to take steps to filter the content minors are exposed to, among other obligations.

“The Kids Online Safety Act would require social media platforms to [be] designed for safety so that your settings are safe by default,” Blackburn explained on “Washington Watch with Tony Perkins” Tuesday. “It would also require these algorithms to be opened and be transparent and require them to be available to third-party research. It would require the social media platforms to go through an audit every year about what is on those platforms.”

She further noted that the bill “would give parents a portal where they could report these postings and videos that encourage self-harm like suicide or eating disorders” and would also give them “the ability to contact social media and report cyberbullying and require them … to block such content.”

“[The bill] give[s] parents and kids the toolbox that they need in order to be sure that the online experience is going to be positive,” Blackburn argued.

The senator went on to assert that the legislation is designed to require social media companies to revamp their algorithms, which critics say are designed to keep minors hooked on their platforms.

“Our children are the product,” Blackburn declared. “When they are online, their data is being collected, they are being marketed to. And children are being exposed to things in the virtual space, whether it is cyber bullying or pornography or alcohol and tobacco being marketed to them. They’re getting all this exposure online. There are laws against exposing children to this in the physical space, but that does not apply in the online space. So this is going to put that burden on social media. And parents have said, ‘Look, we want a toolbox that we can deal with this, that we can protect our children.’ But social media platforms will not give us that toolbox.”

Dan Hart is senior editor at The Washington Stand.