[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – This week, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) led a roundtable discussion with parents whose children fell victim to the dangers of social media to discuss the importance of the Kids Online Safety Act and holding Big Tech accountable for their addictive features that intentionally target kids and teens.
“Thank you for your persistence and for continuing to share your stories. I think it means more than you will ever know,” said Senator Blackburn. “Being able to get this passed — get KOSA passed — and putting in place the protections that you all want to see so that you have those tools, just like you’re saying, to protect kids, and putting that responsibility on social media, that duty of care, is so important. I am so grateful that you all are here.”
“You’re making a difference, have no doubt that you’re making a difference. You’re helping others to avoid what you went through,” said Senator Blumenthal. “When the product design kills people, and they know it kills people, they ought to be held accountable.”
Sharing their stories with the senators were parents whose children died or were severely impacted by cyberbullying, online extortion attempts, social media challenges, eating disorders, racially-motivated attacks, drug deals, and more — all of which were facilitated via social media platforms.
“Anonymous apps have always, when they’re marketed to teens, led to cyberbullying because there’s no accountability in a suicide,” said Kristin Bride, mother to Carson who took his own life after receiving tormenting messages from classmates who hid their online identities. “These dangerous designs just keep coming and coming because there is no duty of care and that’s why I’m doing this work. I don't want to see other kids die and go through what our family has had to endure.”
“Riley died by suicide on March 30, 2021 after he was targeted through Facebook messenger by a sextortionist that got him to send compromising images, and then blackmailed him,” said Mary Rodee, mother to Riley who was lost to suicide. “We’d had lots of talks about safety…and still, this person from across the world was able to scare my Riley to death. This is not something that teachers or police officers or parents can fight…we really need that duty of care that could have saved my baby.”
“I get online, every week, I re-traumatize myself, and I search for the Choking Challenge,” said Joann Bogard, mother to Mason who died after attempting an online challenge encouraging kids to choke themselves. “I find the videos, I report them with the system that the platforms put in place, and very, very seldom do they take any of them down…It doesn’t go away, and it’s not going away.”
“When social media companies say that kids are searching for this content…they are lying and they know it,” said Meg Stuhmer, mother to Carly, who was seriously injured in a 2021 car accident that claimed the life of another teen. “There’s an algorithm for us as adults, and there’s an algorithm for kids and they are targeting our kids...This is the only [industry] that’s not regulated. It needs to happen, and it should have already happened...KOSA needs to pass.”
“I found out that she had communicated with a gentleman she had met on Instagram who’s a drug dealer,” said Julianna Arnold, mother to Coco who was poisoned by fentanyl in a drug deal that was arranged via social media. “The social media companies know what’s going on. They are distributing the drugs for the cartels…It would not be possible, and they would not be killing our kids the way they are if they did not have complete access to our young people through these social media channels. KOSA is very important because of the protections and accountability it can place on these social media companies.”
“I firmly believe in KOSA. My daughter survived this, and I’m just thankful for that, but I have a moral responsibility to be here with these parents and fight for KOSA,” said LaQuinta Hernandez, mother to Jasmine who experienced severe online harassment and racist cyberbullying. “Us as parents, there’s only so much we can do. We’re taking on these Big Tech companies, and we need help.”
Senators Blackburn and Blumenthal first introduced the Kids Online Safety Act in February 2022 following reporting and after spearheading a series of five subcommittee hearings with social media companies and advocates on the repeated failures by tech giants to protect kids on their platforms and about the dangers kids face online.
More photos and videos are available here.