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How Congress can protect children online

How Congress can protect children online

By Mark MacCarthy

In September 2021, the Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen released a trove of internal Facebook documents. These documents showed, among other things, that Facebook knew that Instagram is toxic for teen girls. One slide summarizing internal company research said, “Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse.”

These revelations turbocharged policymakers at the state level to enact laws aimed at protecting kids online. A year after her revelations, California adopted the California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act, a kids online safety law modelled on the Age-Appropriate Design Code adopted in the United Kingdom (UK) in 2020. The new California law requires online websites that are “likely to be accessed” by children under 18 to prioritize their safety and to take a variety of measures to identify and mitigate systemic risks to their mental health and wellbeing.

The Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), a federal bill sponsored by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), takes a similar risk-based, system design approach to protecting kids from online harms. KOSA narrowly missed inclusion in the…

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