Parents upload photos of their dead children and lobby Congress to pass internet safety legislation

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WASHINGTON — Dozens of parents dressed in black and carrying posters of their deceased children went to Capitol Hill this week for a Senate hearing on Wednesday with the CEOs of big tech companies in the hot seat.

On Thursday, after the CEOs of X, Meta, Snap, Discord and TikTok departed, they stayed behind to personally lobby members of Congress to pass legislation they say could help prevent more families from experiencing the tragedies they have.

The Children’s Online Safety Act, or KOSA for short, was introduced two years ago by the bipartisan duo of Sens. Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, and Marsha Blackburn, Republican of Tennessee. If passed and passed into law, it will provide children and their parents with more safeguards and tools to protect their safety online. The bill requires online platforms to prevent or mitigate the promotion of self-harm, eating disorders, sexual exploitation, and drug abuse of minors under 16 years of age.

The parents, mostly mothers, who traveled from across the country, said they saw real momentum toward passing the bill after Wednesday’s hearing.

“It’s a David and Goliath story,” Maureen Mulack, whose son, David, died by suicide at age 16 after being cyberbullied on Instagram, told NBC News on Thursday.

“We are fighting a billion dollar lobbying campaign against the work we do. Our children matter and we are sick and tired [Big Tech] “Deploying all these people to crush the work we do here,” she added.

The bill would also set default app controls to the stricter option to protect minors, allowing parents to control their children’s privacy and account settings, including the option to “opt out” of algorithmic recommendations. Platforms will be required to issue annual independent audits identifying risks of harm to minors and compliance with the law.

But the bill also faced criticism, especially after a video emerged of Blackburn referring to it They can be used to censor transphobic content It went viral. Others fear the bill will be used to Censor online speech Far beyond the offensive and harmful content these parents hope to target.

Blackburn Legislative Director Jamie Susskind He said Previously the senator was speaking about “two separate issues” and her comments were “taken out of context. KOSA will not – and has not intended – to target or censor any individual or community.”

Blumenthal said he and Blackburn believe their bill could be the first major legislation in years approved by Congress to regulate the Internet “in part because of the parents who rallied to come here with the courage and strength to tell their stories of grief and pain.” “, noting that the momentum now “seems really different.”

“This will be the first piece to get to the finish line,” Blackburn agreed, predicting.

Joan Boogaard, whose 15-year-old son Mason died after attempting a viral social media challenge in 2019, was among the parents who lobbied members on Thursday. She and others held photos of their children behind the tech CEOs at the hearing the day before to make their case for KOSA, Get an apology from Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

“It’s the strongest bill out there. It’s the one that will give parents the tools they need to better protect our kids online. It will put the burden back on the social media companies, so they have to fix their faulty product. It requires them to Be transparent.” “We need this bill that will do more, not just one piece of it. “We need her to do a lot more.”

The senators, parents and advocates rallying to support the legislation know it won’t be easy.

Relatives of the victims hold their photos (Brendan Smialowski / AFP – Getty Images)

“These people have a lot of power in the political world,” Blumenthal said, referring to Big Tech companies that have spent hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying Congress to stave off federal regulation, according to public data on the matter. Open secrets. “The staff they can muster, the disinformation they can spread, the contributions they can make to the campaign, in all the ways it’s business as usual, will prevail. This can’t be business as usual. That’s why it’s so important.”

The legislation received a boost this week when Snap, the company that owns Snapchat, became the first major tech platform to support KOSA. Microsoft later followed suit when he was vice chairman and president to publish His endorsement of the legislation for X. During Wednesday’s hearing, X CEO Linda Yaccarino She offered her support for the bill for the first time. Meta, Discord, and TikTok had no weight.

Opponents of the legislation, including civil rights groups and some lawmakers, say the definition of harm is too broad, leading to potential censorship of content that promotes politically polarizing issues, gender equality, or abortion rights.

“KOSA contains significant and harmful loopholes that would enable states with extremist leaders, as is the case in my home state of Florida, to use provisions in this legislation to bully and attempt to erase the presence of LGBTQ+ and especially trans people online, while they are in the process,” the lone congressman of the generation said. Z, Rep. Maxwell Frost, Democrat of Florida, told NBC News in a statement: “At the same time it threatens our right to privacy by requiring everyone to upload their ID to verify their age to go online.”

Blumenthal indicated this week that senators are open to amending some texts to include more lawmakers.

“We are continuing conversations with a variety of stakeholders about specific provisions in the bill,” Blumenthal said during a press conference on Tuesday. “There are some steps that we will take in response to concerns, which are very legitimate points that many of these groups have raised. Hopefully, hopefully, we will have a final version within a very short period of time.”

A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told NBC News in a statement that “children’s online safety is a priority” of their legislative agenda this year.

“As we work to pass the additional amount and keep the government funded in the coming weeks, Leader Schumer will continue to work with sponsors of the online safety bills to ensure the necessary support,” they said.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call or text 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or live chat at 988lifeline.org. You can also visit TalkingOfSuicide.com/resources For additional support.

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