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Parents press for online child safety reforms amid Congressional reform

Kathryn Carley

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(Commonwealth News Service) Massachusetts parents of children harmed by social media platforms are calling on Congress to advance the bipartisan "Kids Online Safety Act."

The bill would require platforms to default to their most restrictive parental controls, creating a "duty of care" to protect children but it has been months since an emotional Senate hearing, when Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg offered a public apology.

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Deb Schmill, president of the Becca Schmill Foundation in Needham, whose daughter died of an accidental drug overdose after being relentlessly cyberbullied, said Congress cannot wait.

"It's going to be very upsetting to the parents, to so many people in this country who want to see this happen, they want to see Big Tech regulated," Schmill asserted. "They don't want to see kids dying every day."

Nearly 70 senators now co-sponsor the bill, including Senator Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. A House committee is scheduled to take up the legislation this week. Tech companies have resisted wholesale change, citing free speech rights.

A growing amount of evidence points to the dangers of social media for children. Researchers said the addictive platforms incite bullying, substance abuse and other behaviors, which can lead to self-harm.

Schmill contended her 18-year-old daughter Becca would be alive today if greater protections and regulations on Big Tech were in place.

"We want to do it for our kids," Schmill emphasized. "We want to make sure that no other children die or are harmed by the same design features that have harmed our children."

The Kids Online Safety Act has undergone extensive revisions to earn the support of national LGBTQ+-plus groups concerned with censorship of content but groups in more conservative states with restrictive laws remain opposed, along with the ACLU.

Still, parents like Schmill argued, if passed, the legislation will hold social media companies liable for their products and help put the safety of young people over profits.