Kids Safety Bill Moves Forward In House

A subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday advanced the proposed Kids Online Safety Act, a controversial proposal to regulate how social media platforms display material to minors under 17.

But the bill could still face significant changes before it comes up for a vote by the full House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-New Jersey), ranking member of the committee, said during Thursday's hearing that he was concerned the bill “runs the risk of creating additional harm” to young people by giving social media companies an incentive to suppress material.

He said that the measure, in its current form, “could cause social media companies to overfilter content, out of an abundance of caution about legal risks.”

Though Pallone voted to advance the bill, he also said the full committee will take up his concerns.

The measure -- introduced by Reps. Gus Bilirakis (R-Florida), Kathy Castor (D-Florida), Erin Houchin (R-Indiana) and Kimberly Schrier (D-Washington) -- aims to tackle potential harms associated with social media use, such as depression, eating disorders, and online bullying.



The proposed law 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 support the proposed law, arguing that it will force tech platforms to protect teens from content that could encourage drug use, self-harm or suicide.

But the bill has drawn opposition from civil liberties groups, who say it's unconstitutional to restrict publishers' ability to recommend content.

In general, the First Amendment protects all lawful content, including material that might be considered harmful, such as “hate speech,” photos associated with eating disorders, and material discussing drug use.

The Center for Democracy & Technology and other advocacy groups argued in a recent letter to lawmakers that the bill will give companies an incentive to avoid recommending posts that law enforcers might consider harmful -- including content about “sexual health and reproductive care, racial justice, and LGBTQ+ issues.”

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

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