Lauren C. Moye, FISM News
LGBTQ activist groups are pushing for Congress to kill legislation that would promote greater online safety by claiming the restrictions imposed by the bill would do more harm than good, especially for teenagers who identify as gay or transgender.
At issue is the bipartisan Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), which would make changes to how minors are targeted for product advertisement, force social media platforms and video services to moderate a minor’s exposure to harmful content, and increase parental controls and monitoring abilities.
Defying all expectations of what one might believe would be uncontroversial legislation, 90+ LGBTQ and human rights organizations are now lobbying for the Senate to vote against the KOSA.
“We urge members of Congress not to move KOSA forward this session, either as a standalone bill or attached to other urgent legislation, and encourage members to work toward solutions that protect young people’s rights to privacy and access to information and their ability to seek safe and trusted spaces to communicate online,” the coalition wrote to Senate leaders on Monday.
The Nov. 28 letter states that KOSA would do more harm by increasing data collection on minors and adults, increasing invasive filtering and monitoring tools, and jeopardizing private communications involving minors.
The groups — which include GLAAD, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the American Library Association among others — claim that while KOSA’s intents are “laudable” it will have “damaging unintended consequences.” They allege that broad content filtering will prevent minors from accessing sex education and LGBTQ resources.
Most significantly, the groups criticize the bill for a “burdensome, vague ‘duty of care’ to prevent” harm to minor consumers. This criticism includes the wordage in Section 3 that “other matters that pose a risk to the physical and mental health of a minor” should be banned or moderated.
While not mentioned explicitly in the letter, the groups hint at fears that the legislation will be used to directly ban LGTBQ material from minors online. They reference LGBTQ books being banned in school libraries and accusations of “grooming” gender dysphoric children as contributing to fears of how KOSA might be applied if passed.
Additionally, the groups oppose the inclusion of teenagers aged 15 and 16 in the bill’s definition of “minor.” The activist groups believe these teens have “independent rights to privacy and access to information.”
While they give the example of a domestic violence situation, the point is reminiscent of arguments made in favor of school codes that allow school administrators to keep parents uninformed about their child’s mental health and gender dysphoria just in case the parents might be hostile. These school policies have led to concerns about the erosion of parental rights and lawsuits regarding the appropriateness of these policies.
The same element is present in the debate about parental monitoring of teenage online activity. Should teenagers have a right to privacy with their internet usage? Or do parents have a right to monitor activity so they can guide a child and ensure their wellbeing?
The KOSA bill was cosponsored by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) after they sat through five different congressional subcommittee meetings on the harmful effects of the internet on these minors. The senators have stated that they believe social media giants have placed profit before the well-being of their youngest consumers.
A whistleblower revealed that Facebook’s parent company Meta ignored internal evidence of an increased risk to teens’ mental health. In particular, social media usage has been linked to insomnia, anxiety, depression, disordered eating, and suicide.
Additionally, a recent Fairplay report showed that popular teen media platforms allow teens to easily search for and view daring and sometimes fatal challenges. These media platforms include Instagram, TikTok, and Youtube. Car surfing, train surfing, and digesting unsafe amounts of over-the-counter medication are all examples of risky behavior encouraged through easily accessed online challenges.