Kids Safety Bill Still Poses Censorship Threat, Civil Rights Groups Say

Civil liberties groups are calling for additional revisions to the proposed Kids Online Safety Act, arguing that the current version of the bill could result in censorship and also threaten privacy.

“We continue to have concerns that this bill will be misused to target marginalized communities and politically divisive information, concerns that have not been fully addressed in the revised draft,” the Center for Democracy & Technology, Electronic Frontier Foundation, American Civil Liberties Union, Fight for the Future and New America’s Open Technology Institute said Friday in a letter addressed to lawmakers.

The bill, introduced in the House and Senate, aims to tackle potential harms associated with social media use -- including depression, eating disorders, and online bullying.



The Senate version, which has already seen significant revisions, would require large tech platforms to use “reasonable care” to avoid harming minors via design features such as notifications, automatic playing of videos, personalized recommendations and appearance altering filters.

Some youth advocates endorse the proposed law, arguing that forcing tech platforms to prioritize children's safety will protect them from content that could encourage drug use, self-harm or suicide.

Opponents, including the civil liberties groups, counter that restrictions on recommending lawful content -- which can include content about drug use and eating disorders -- would violate the First Amendment.

The Center for Democracy & Technology and other groups that wrote to lawmakers Friday argued that the proposed curbs on recommendations would require tech platforms “to take measures to restrict their services from recommending content that meets the government’s view of what will harm youth mental health.”

They add: “As a result, companies looking to reduce their legal risk will remain incentivized not to recommend content on young people’s feeds that they fear legislators and enforcers could claim relate to negative mental health outcomes, including content related to sexual health and reproductive care, racial justice, and LGBTQ+ issues, even though such content can be critically important to many young people and their safety and security.”

The digital rights groups also say some provisions could allow parents “to broadly surveil their kids online.”

The groups are supporting a proposed revision by Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), who has argued for language ensuring that “mere content recommendations” wouldn't violate the statute, and that privacy features like automatic message deletion wouldn't be considered harmful.

“It's possible to protect children from harmful platform design without sacrificing user privacy,” Wyden said earlier this month in a Bluesky post.

Wyden's proposed revisions “would reduce some concerns around the bill's potential to lead to censorship of valuable speech, by ensuring that online services using certain personalized recommendation systems could not be held liable simply for delivering certain content,” the civil liberties groups argue.

The organizations are also calling for amendments “to ensure parents have access to tools to protect their children’s privacy, but do not have broader abilities to surveil or control the content that particularly their teen kids view.”

Earlier this month, the Interactive Advertising Bureau was among 13 organizations that urged Congressional leaders to reject the bill, arguing that it raised concerns about “partisan politicians enforcing content-based laws,” as well as concerns about privacy.

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