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Business News/ News / Senators Push for Industry Support on Kids’ Online Safety Bills

Senators Push for Industry Support on Kids’ Online Safety Bills

Congressional lawmakers pressed major social media executives to support proposed federal online protections for kids during a tense Senate hearing on Wednesday, but failed to secure outright endorsements as hoped.

Senators Push for Industry Support on Kids’ Online Safety BillsPremium
Senators Push for Industry Support on Kids’ Online Safety Bills

(Bloomberg) -- Congressional lawmakers pressed major social media executives to support proposed federal online protections for kids during a tense Senate hearing on Wednesday, but failed to secure outright endorsements as hoped. 

The Senate Judiciary Committee brought in the chief executives of Meta Platforms Inc, Tiktok, X, Snap Inc., and Discord to fuel momentum for a package of bipartisan legislation targeting online child sexual exploitation. Despite widespread pressure to act, Congress has so far failed to pass those bills and other measures circulating on Capitol Hill intended to strengthen children’s safety online. 

The CEOs on Wednesday pledged to improve their platforms for young users and work with the senators on child safety proposals. But most of them refused to back the measures in their current form. 

The Senate Judiciary and Senate Commerce committees are the two major panels considering kid’s online safety as it falls under their jurisdictions. Senators on the committees last year approved several bills on the issue, but they have lagged since, and haven’t been advanced by the full Senate. Many lawmakers have blamed the stalemate on lobbying efforts by tech companies and industry groups, though they also acknowledged Congress’ shortcomings in moving the issue forward.

Here are the key bills under consideration: 

STOP CSAM Act: The bill aims to empower victims of child sex abuse by allowing them to sue tech platforms that have knowingly facilitated online exploitation. The bill would also make it easier for victims to request the removal of child sex abuse material from online platforms. Its leading sponsors are Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin of Illinois and Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri.

Industry trade groups, along with free speech and privacy rights’ advocates, have widely criticized the bill, saying it would erode privacy and security protections online and lead companies to over-remove and censor content in fear of legal liability.  

X, formerly Twitter, became the first social media platform to publicly endorse the bill on Wednesday. 

“It is time for a federal standard to criminalize the sharing of non-consensual intimate material," X CEO Linda Yaccarino said. 

Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA): The legislation aims to respond to widespread accusations that social media companies promote harmful content to their young users. The bill would create legal requirements for platforms to keep children safe from content that promotes violence, substance abuse, eating disorders, cyberbullying and harassment, and sexual exploitation.  

It would also require platforms to establish safeguards to protect kids’ data, limit personalized ads, and disable so-called addictive product features, such as videos playing automatically. Parents with kids younger than 13 would be provided tools to manage their child’s time spent online, and teenagers could also opt in.  

The bill, led by Senators Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, has received support from almost half of the Senate. Opponents, however, similarly say the bill would result in companies over-moderating and blocking content that isn’t necessarily harmful, such as LGBTQ related content.  

Snap recently became the first tech company to endorse the bill, followed shortly by Microsoft Corp. The other CEOs testifying on Wednesday refused to endorse the bill, but said they’re willing to work with the lawmakers on changes to it. Yaccarino said X supports the bill but would like to see more changes to it to “ensure the protections of the freedom of speech."

“No legislation is perfect, but some rules of the road are better than none," Snap CEO Evan Spiegel said Wednesday.

EARN IT Act: The bill seeks to hold online platforms liable for hosting child sex abuse material. It would amend Section 230, the landmark internet law that shields online platforms from liability for third-party content on their platforms. Senators Blumenthal and Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, have led the bill.

Critics have said the bill would increase user surveillance and weaken privacy rights by undermining end-to-end encryption communications.

SHIELD Act: The bill would criminalize the distribution of non-consensual private or sexually explicit images, seeking to fill a gap in the law to hold perpetrators legally responsible. The bill also aims to beef up federal law enforcement tools to crack down on child sexual exploitation. Senators Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and John Cornyn of Texas have led the legislation.

Yaccarino said Wednesday that X supports the bill. Klobuchar asked the other tech executives to do the same. 

“We very much would like to have a conversation with you. We’re open to to discussing further. We do welcome legislation, regulation," Discord CEO Jason Citron said, adding that the company is committed to protecting young users from harms.

“I just want to get this stuff done. I’m so tired of this," Klobuchar responded.

Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA 2.0): The bill would block online platforms from gathering information from teens under the age of 17 without their consent, updating a decades-old law that applied to children younger than 13. The legislation, led by Senators Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, would also ban websites from targeting kids and teens with ads. Though the bill didn’t come up during Wednesday’s hearing, it has sparked concerns related to free speech and privacy. 

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Published: 02 Feb 2024, 12:40 AM IST
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