LGBTQ Agenda: Parents of trans kids object to internet regulation bill

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday September 19, 2023
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Senators Marsha Blackburn, left, and Richard Blumenthal introduced the Kids Online Safety Act earlier this year. Photo: AP
Senators Marsha Blackburn, left, and Richard Blumenthal introduced the Kids Online Safety Act earlier this year. Photo: AP

Over 100 parents of transgender kids have signed an open letter asking Congress to kill the proposed Kids Online Safety Act, which they claim is a threat to freedom of speech on the internet.

"Legislation like KOSA would make our kids less safe, not more safe," the letter, published by Fight for the Future, states. "It would grant extraordinary new power to right wing state attorneys general to dictate what content younger users can see on social media, cutting our kids off from lifesaving online resources and community." (Due to privacy concerns, all the signatories used only their first names or were anonymous.)

The bill, introduced by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee), has been championed by Democratic leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and President Joe Biden, who said in this year's State of the Union address that "It's time to pass bipartisan legislation to stop Big Tech from collecting personal data on kids and teenagers online, ban targeted advertising to children, and impose stricter limits on the personal data these companies collect on all of us."

As the Bay Area Reporter reported shortly after the president's address, the bill — currently under consideration by the Senate Commerce Committee — has been critiqued by both LGBTQ advocacy groups and civil libertarians for its potential infringement on freedom of speech.

According to a bill summary authored by the Library of Congress, the legislation would require "applications or services that connect to the internet and are likely to be used by minors" to "act in the best interest of a minor using its application or service. This includes a duty to prevent and mitigate heightened risks of harms that may arise from using the platform."

By creating a duty of care, companies could be held liable for harms young people experience on social media. Groups such as Fight for the Future claim this is vague.

By leaving enforcement to the Federal Trade Commission and to individual states, the law can be weaponized by anti-LGBTQ politicians, the parents who signed the open letter wrote.

"These are the same attorneys general that are actively working to ban gender-affirming health care that saves kids' lives, criminalize drag performances, and label families that accept our children as 'groomers' and 'child abusers,'" the letter states, referring to state officials who would enforce the act.

Indeed, seven Republican attorneys general sent a letter to Target earlier this year accusing the retail magnet of obscenity by selling LGBTQ-themed merchandise, including tuck-friendly swimsuits, as the B.A.R. reported at the time.

"Big Tech is hurting our kids," the letter continues. "KOSA would hurt them even more. We agree there is tremendous urgency around holding social media giants accountable and cracking down on their abusive business practices. That's why we are imploring you to abandon KOSA, which is deeply flawed and faces overwhelming opposition from human rights, LGBTQ, racial justice, and civil liberties organizations. Then we can work together to advance more thoughtful proposals, like privacy, antitrust, and algorithmic transparency legislation that can address the harms of Big Tech without throwing trans kids and human rights under the bus."

The parents aren't alone — Congressmember Maxwell Alejandro Frost (D-Florida), the youngest member of Congress, also disagrees with KOSA.

"Proposals that involve filtering or identification requirements on sites, like the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), would have unintended consequences that undermine our goal of an enriching and educational Internet experience and far outweigh their benefits," Frost stated. "They jeopardize kids' privacy through increased data collection and promote inappropriate parental surveillance which can keep children experiencing domestic abuse from seeking help."

Blackburn mentioned earlier this month "protecting minor children from the transgender in this culture and that influence" as a key issue, according to a YouTube interview with the Family Policy Alliance. She did not return a request for comment for this report, but in a joint news release with Blumenthal defended KOSA's necessity.

"The bipartisan Kids Online Safety Act not only requires social media companies to make their platforms safer by default, but it provides parents with the tools they need to protect their children online," she stated. "I thank Senator Blumenthal for his continued partnership on this critical issue and urge my colleagues to join us in the fight to protect our children online."

Blumenthal added that tech companies are responsible for worsening reported mental health among young Americans.

"Record levels of hopelessness and despair — a national teen mental health crisis — have been fueled by black box algorithms featuring eating disorders, bullying, suicidal thoughts, and more," he stated. "Kids and parents want to take back control over their online lives. They are demanding safeguards, means to disconnect, and a duty of care for social media. Our bill has strong bipartisan momentum. And it has growing support from young people who've seen Big Tech's destruction, parents who've lost children, mental health experts, and public interest advocates. It's an idea whose time has come."

The bill would also force companies to disclose their use of personalized recommendation systems and targeted advertising, and stop facilitating the advertising of tobacco, gambling and other age-restricted activities and items to minors.

Companies will also have to report annually on the foreseeable risks of harm to minors on their platforms.

Schumer's office did not return a request for comment for this report as of press time. Neither did the White House.

LGBTQ Agenda is an online column that appears weekly. Got a tip on queer news? Contact John Ferrannini at [email protected]

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