2023 is the year we hold Big Tech accountable
Published 10:45 am Tuesday, May 9, 2023
Grace McComas endured torture from a man who had previously drugged and assaulted her. He used social media to make Grace feel isolated, afraid, and worthless. Her parents fought to save her, but there was nothing they could do to force those digital platforms to ban Grace’s tormenter. She ultimately ended her life at 15 years old.
Sixteen-year-old Carson Bride ended his life after receiving hundreds of harassing, threatening and sexually explicit messages from classmates who hid their identities with anonymous apps. Carson asked his tormentors to identify themselves so that they could talk things out in person, but no one ever did. The last search on Carson’s phone was for hacks to find out who was doing this to him.
Mason Bogard was an adventurous 15-year-old boy who lost his life after attempting the viral “choking challenge.”
These are just a few of the hundreds of heartbreaking stories that have become far too common in the age of social media.
It has become impossible to deny that our children are suffering at the hands of Big Tech. Meanwhile, dozens of executives have sat before Senate committees unable to explain what their companies are doing to reverse course. They would much rather deflect and continue raking in profits than make sure their platforms are safe for young users.
If Big Tech cannot hold themselves accountable, Congress must step in. Over the last several years, Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal and I, and our teams, have met with countless parents, young people, psychologists, pediatricians, mental health experts, nurses, consumer advocates, faith groups, tech experts, and so many others to hear from them about the harms of social media. In response, we introduced the Kids Online Safety Act last Congress, a bipartisan solution that will require online platforms to put the interests of kids first, creating a duty of care for companies that know their products cater to young users. The bill will give families the safeguards, tools, and transparency they need to protect young people’s health and well-being online, and expose Big Tech’s pernicious practices by requiring independent audits and supporting access to important data for experts and academic researchers.
Unfortunately, Big Tech’s lobbyists were successful in their efforts to obstruct passage of this bill last year, but that won’t stop us. This week, Senator Blumenthal and I re-launched the Kids Online Safety Act with the support of a third of the U.S. Senate and hundreds of advocacy groups – a stronger coalition than before.
Passing the Kids Online Safety Act and holding Big Tech accountable cannot wait. School is winding down and kids will soon be out for the summer, which increases the potential for more device time, more online interactions, and more online harms. Let’s get this done for Grace, Carson, Mason, and the hundreds of kids who have been injured or died at the hands of social media companies.
(Marsha Blackburn represents Tennessee in the United States Senate)