“Our nation is in the midst of a mental health crisis...It’s a public health emergency egregiously and knowingly exacerbated by Big Tech,” said Blumenthal
[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Today, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called on Congress to take action to protect kids online. During today’s hearing in the Judiciary Committee, Blumenthal highlighted Big Tech’s harms and the need for the Kids Online Safety Act, comprehensive bipartisan legislation he authored with U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) which requires social media companies to give kids and parents tools to prevent the destructive impacts of social media.
“Big Tech has relentlessly, ruthlessly pumped up profits by purposefully exploiting kids’ and parents’ pain,” said Blumenthal in his opening remarks to the Committee and witnesses. “What I feel is outrage. Outrage at inaction—Congress’ inexcusable failure to pass the…Kids Online Safety Act. Outrage at Big Tech pillaging the public interest with its armies of lobbyists and lawyers, despite their pledges of collaboration. Outrage that you and other victims must relive the pain and grief that break our hearts and should finally be a moral imperative to action.”
Blumenthal’s comments came after yesterday’s release of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report showing that in 2021, nearly three in five teenage girls felt persistent sadness and nearly one in three girls seriously considered attempting suicide. Citing these worrying findings, Blumenthal called the situation a “mental health crisis” and “public health emergency” that has been, “aggravated by toxic content on eating disorders, bullying, even suicide, driven by Big Tech’s black box algorithms, leading children down dark rabbit holes.”
“This mental health crisis will persist — take more young lives—unless Congress cares more about the Kids Online Safety Act than it does about Big Tech,” Blumenthal continued. “It is urgent that we move forward.”
During his questions to witnesses, Blumenthal asked Kristin Bride, a social media reform advocate whose son Carson took his own life after being cyberbullied, about what Congress’ failure to pass the Kids Online Safety Act in the last Congress meant to her personally.
“It was extremely disappointing,” said Bride. “It is so difficult to tell our stories of the very worst day of our lives over and over and over again and then not see change. We’re done with the hearings, we’re done with the stories – we’re looking to you all for action. And I am confident that you can all come together and do this for us, and for America’s children.”
Blumenthal told Emma Lembke, a youth activist and founder of the Log Off Movement, that, “you are part of a generation that has a right to expect more from us.” After discussing her personal experience, Lembke agreed with Blumenthal about the need for urgent action.
“I got Instagram at the age of 12 and I sit in front of you all today as a 20 year old. About eight years down the line, I still see and hear of the harms that I experienced eight years ago,” said Lembke. “The mental health crisis for young people that we are witnessing will only continue to rise. So we cannot wait another year. We cannot wait another month or another week or another day to being to protect the next generation from the harms that we have witnessed and heard about today.”
In addition to the Kids Online Safety Act, Blumenthal emphasized the importance of passing legislation like the Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act (EARN IT Act) to encourage the tech industry to take online child sexual exploitation seriously. The bill, authored by Blumenthal and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee, would remove blanket immunity for violations of laws related to online child sexual abuse material (CSAM).
“The EARN IT Act and the Kids Online Safety Act are the least we can do to help begin protecting against Big Tech,” said Blumenthal.
U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal: Thanks very much, Mr. Chairman, and I want to personally thank you not only for having this hearing, but for your very important interest and work on protecting kids online.
I am grateful as well to Senator Graham for his partnership on the EARN IT Act. This cause is truly bipartisan which Senator Blackburn and I, I think, are showing in real time here the work that we’re doing together. The EARN IT Act can be a meaningful step toward reforming this unconscionably excessive Section 230 shield to Big Tech accountability.
I think we need to be blunt from the beginning—because we know right now the central truth. Big Tech has relentlessly, ruthlessly pumped up profits by purposefully exploiting kids’ and parents’ pain.
Young people like Emma Lembke have been victims of Big Tech’s hideous “experiment”, as President Biden rightly called it. Parents like Kristin Bride, have lost beautiful children like Carson. Parents—whose tears and raw grief as you came to see me in my office—have moved me with heartbreaking power.
But beyond heartbreak, what I feel is outrage. Outrage at inaction—Congress’ inexcusable failure to pass the bill you advanced courageously and eloquently, the Kids Online Safety Act. Outrage at Big Tech pillaging the public interest with its armies of lobbyists and lawyers, despite their pledges of collaboration. Outrage that you and other victims must relive the pain and grief that break our hearts and should finally be a moral imperative to action.
We came so close last session. We need to seize this moment.
We face a public health imperative, not just a moral reckoning. Our nation is in the midst of a mental health crisis. If you have any doubt about it, read the latest CDC survey that says three out of five girls in America experience deep depression, Saddened and helpless that drives many of them to plan suicide.
It’s a public health emergency egregiously and knowingly exacerbated by Big Tech. Aggravated by toxic content on eating disorders, bullying, even suicide. Driven by Big Tech’s black box algorithms, leading children down dark rabbit holes.
We have to give kids and parents—yes, both kids and parents—the tools, transparency, and guardrails they need to take back control over their own lives.
And that is why we must—and we will—double down on the Kids Online Safety Act.
After five extensive hearings last session with Senator Blackburn at our Consumer Protection Subcommittee. And I thank Senator Maria Cantwell for her leadership.
After deeply painful conversations with young people and parents like Emma and Kristen. After testimony from brave whistleblowers like Frances Haugen, who presented documents—not just personal anecdotes, but smoking-gun proof — that Facebook calculatingly drove toxic content to draw more eyeballs, more clicks, more dollars, more profits. After Facebook hid this evidence this from parents, even misled us in Congress. It’s Big Tobacco’s playbook all over again.
The evidence of harm is heartbreakingly abundant. Beyond any reasonable doubt, action is imperative now. And I think these brave victims at our hearing ought to provide the impetus and momentum.
Right now, urgently, the Kids Online Safety Act can be a model for how bipartisan legislating can still work—a message to the public that Congress can still work.
We need to reform Section 230. Senator Graham and I are working on the EARN IT Act. I commit that we will work on major Section 230 reform and it will be bipartisan.
This mental health crisis will persist — take more young lives— unless Congress cares more about the Kids Online Safety Act than it does about Big Tech. It is urgent that we move forward.
And I am haunted by what one parent told me and all of us in advocating for the Kids Online Safety Act. She said, “Congress must act. It’s a powerful call to action.” And she asked, “How many more children have to die before we make them a priority? Now is the time. Let’s pass it.”
That’s her quote. Mine is, Congress needs to act and heed that call and do it now.
Thank you Mr. Chairman.