By John Perrino and Dr. Jennifer King
The Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) has bipartisan support from nearly half the Senate and the enthusiastic backing of President Joe Biden, but opponents fear the bill would cause more harm than good for children and the internet.
Last week, we heard new promises to bring KOSA and other bills addressing children’s safety to a floor vote after a second Facebook whistleblower testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee with yet more details of how Meta leadership ignored evidence that Instagram was harming teens.
The bill was updated and passed unanimously out of committee in late July, but civil liberties groups continue to raise concerns about privacy issues with age-based measures and “duty of care” requirements that could empower state attorneys general to file lawsuits prosecuting culture war issues, such as content recommendations related to gender identity and abortion.
For parents and youth advocates, there is an obvious and urgent need to regulate the design of social media and similar online platforms. Many young people and parents know someone who has struggled with social media use and want technology companies to be held accountable. Teens have a complicated relationship with social media and parents are understandably concerned with declining youth mental health and wellbeing.
One thing both sides in the battle over KOSA have in common? Fear and frustration that it might not be possible for Congress to pass any legislation on social media privacy or safety.
Unfortunately, the fate of the legislation may come down to a fight that is rife in emotion, but lacking in nuance or a clear path forward.
Critics cannot entirely dismiss KOSA, and advocates must recognize that online safety legislation requires a remarkably difficult Goldilocks balance to get the rules just right. Clear, yet adaptable. Protective, but unobtrusive. All with empowerment and authority for children and parents that does not prevent access to online spaces or inhibit free expression.
Advocacy is essential, but KOSA will not move forward without compromise. Some steps have been taken to address concerns, but more needs to be done. We need adults (and young people) in the room who are willing to find consensus and take action...
Originally published as Overcoming Fear and Frustration with the Kids Online Safety Act; by Tech Policy Press on November 13, 2023.
John Perrino is a policy analyst at the Stanford Internet Observatory.
Dr. Jennifer King is the Privacy and Data Policy Fellow at the Stanford University Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence. She graduated from the I School in MIMS program in 2006 and from the Ph.D. program in 2018.