It’s Time to Pass the Kids Online Safety Act

By Ambassador Callista L. Gingrich

The United States Congress has an opportunity to pass the first major kids online safety measure in decades, and the bill is gaining ground in the Senate. First introduced more than two years ago by Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Richard Blumenthal, the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) will give parents the tools they need to protect their kids from online harms and require social media platforms to prioritize the safety of children.

After going through a series of updates and changes, KOSA has won bipartisan support from 64 senators, more than 200 national, state, and local organizations, and 86 percent of U.S. voters.

“This overwhelming bipartisan support for the Kids Online Safety Act… reflects the powerful voices of young people and parents who want Congress to act,” Sens. Blackburn and Blumenthal said. “With new changes to strengthen the bill and growing support, we should seize this moment to take action.”

Among the bill’s mandates, KOSA will require social media platforms to enable the strongest privacy settings for kids by default. Additionally, the bill will require independent audits and research to show how online platforms affect the well-being of minors and give parents and educators a specific channel to report harmful behavior. Further, KOSA requires platforms to take measures to prevent and mitigate dangers to young people, such as sexual trafficking and illegal substance use.

In support of KOSA, Sen. Ted Cruz, Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, said, “Big Tech companies have failed to keep abhorrent and harmful content away from young users or give parents the tools necessary to keep children safe online. The Kids Online Safety Act is a serious and meaningful step toward empowering parents and protecting our kids from toxic content, bullying, sexual predators, and other online threats.”

Explosive investigative reporting and a series of Congressional hearings over the last few years have made clear that Big Tech companies have failed to confront the reality that their negligence has inflicted harm and heartache on kids and their families.

Just this year, while testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg turned to the families of those who had been victimized on social media and said, “I’m sorry for everything you’ve all gone through… Nobody should have to go through what your families have suffered.”

Further, passing KOSA is of critical importance given the ongoing mental health crisis facing young people. According to the CDC, in 2021, more than 4-in-10 high school students felt persistently sad or hopeless, and more than 1-in-5 seriously considered attempting suicide. This tragic trend predates the pandemic, with teen depression rates doubling from 2010 to 2019.

Though many factors contribute to the stark decline of mental health among America’s youth, harmful content on social media platforms contributes to these trends.

A July 2023 letter to Sens. Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer, Ted Cruz, and Maria Cantwell signed by more than 200 organizations, including the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Association of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, affirmed, “After numerous hearings and abundant research findings, the evidence is clear of the potential harms social media platforms can have on the brain development and mental health of our nation’s youth, including hazardous substance use, eating disorders, and self-harm.”

The letter further noted that 59 percent of teenagers in the U.S. had been bullied on social media, and 25 percent of minors between the ages of nine and 17 had a sexually explicit interaction with someone online.

Enough is enough.

It’s time for Congress to pass the Kids Online Safety Act to protect America’s children.

For more commentary from Callista Gingrich, visit