SCHWEPPE: Don’t Fall For Big Tech’s Lies. We Need To Protect Our Children

REUTERS/Nathan Howard

Jon Schweppe Jon Schweppe is the Director of Policy and Government Affairs for American Principles Project. Follow him on Twitter @JonSchweppe
Font Size:

There’s no question that our kids are experiencing a mental health crisis. You would have to be living under a rock (or at least be as dumb as one) to think otherwise.

Teen depression rates have significantly increased, and the sudden nature of this phenomenon closely coincides with growing social media addiction among young people. In fact, a recent study showed that teens who spend just over three hours a day on social media are twice as likely to develop anxiety and depression. Yet teens are now on average spending more than eight hours a day online.

This crisis didn’t just happen by accident. It is a direct result of Big Tech companies deliberately exploiting kids so they can continue to pump up their stock prices. Everyone agrees this is abhorrent behavior, which is why the companies have felt the need to give lip service to Congress about addressing this problem. But they have failed to do anything of substance, stubbornly refusing to put commonsense safeguards in place that would protect their young users from harm.

At this point, we’ve seen enough. We know Big Tech companies aren’t going to do anything on their own, so it’s time to pass legislation to rein them in. That’s why Republican Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn and Democratic Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal are championing a solution to the problem: the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA). 

KOSA is an extremely consequential piece of legislation that would go to great lengths to protect our kids online, and it has a serious chance of becoming law this year – a veto-proof majority of senators have signed onto the bill. This political reality rightfully terrifies Big Tech companies. After all, having unfettered and unsupervised access to children is key to their business model.

If passed, KOSA would transform a child’s online experience by making safety the default. The bill requires platforms to give minors the option to disable addictive algorithms and provides parents and educators with a dedicated channel to report harmful behavior. It also creates a duty of care that would require platforms to prevent specific dangers to minors, such as promoting suicide, sexual exploitation or substance abuse. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, KOSA would provide transparency into how Big Tech behemoths operate by requiring independent audits and research into how these companies are protecting kids from harm.

In Silicon Valley boardrooms, the possibility that these protections might be put in place has caused a five-alarm fire, sending executives into a panic because they might lose their “right” to exploit our children for profit. 

In a last-ditch effort to block KOSA, Big Tech companies have turned to K-Street lobbyists and surrogates, spending upward of $30 million in 2023 alone to halt momentum and sow opposition to regulation. Lobbyists are pushing bald-faced lies to both sides of the aisle, attempting to play into everyone’s worst fears. Left-wing activists are told this bill will do harm to “LGBTQ” youth and result in a virtual book banning campaign. Right-wing activists are told KOSA will lead to government control and an online censorship regime.

But all of this is a well-choreographed act. Don’t fall for it!

Trade associations like NetChoice, which are funded by Big Tech companies including Meta, Google and formerly TikTok, claim that KOSA is a “censorship” bill that infringes on freedom of speech. But that’s completely false.

KOSA includes explicit language to prohibit the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and state attorneys general from using KOSA to censor content, and it offers specific protections to ensure that does not happen. In fact, while crafting the bill, Blackburn, a victim of Big Tech censorship herself, worked to ensure the legislation protects children from specific harms. By defining the particular harms that companies have an obligation to protect minors from – including suicide, eating disorders, substance abuse and sexual exploitation – it prevents KOSA from being weaponized for nefarious purposes.

In reality, Big Tech companies that KOSA will hold accountable are the biggest censors of speech in our country. They don’t care about freedom at all.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, YouTube worked with the Biden White House to silence so-called “disinformation,” even requiring medical advice to be approved by the China-backed World Health Organization. Big Tech platforms like Facebook, Google and Instagram have censored Blackburn, the lead Republican sponsor of KOSA, before. In fact, according to CensorTrack, there are nearly 7,000 current instances of Big Tech censoring speech. Peddling fabricated truths to fit their narrative is simply Big Tech doing what it does best: manipulating public opinion and protecting their profit margins.

Here’s the bottom line: If Big Tech companies take issue with the Kids Online Safety Act, they should have the courage to stand up and oppose the bill on its merits. But they are well aware that telling the truth would be a losing argument, revealing their complete disregard for kids’ online safety. If Republicans and Democrats truly care about protecting children from Big Tech, we all need to see these lies for what they are – and pass KOSA before more kids pay the price for our inaction.

Jon Schweppe is the policy director at American Principles Project. Follow him on X @JonSchweppe.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.