Kids Online Safety Act Is a Bipartisan Push to Protect Children on Social Media

Members of Congress have introduced a number of different bills intended to boost protections for children and teenagers online.

One is a wide-ranging measure, the Kids Online Safety Act or KOSA. It would require online services like social media networks, video game sites and messaging apps to take “reasonable measures” to prevent harm — including online bullying, harassment, sexual exploitation, anorexia, self-harm and predatory marketing — to minors who used their platforms.

It would also require the services to turn on the highest privacy and safety settings by default for users under 18. And it would allow young people to limit or opt out of features like personalized newsfeeds, smartphone notifications and autoplaying videos “that result in compulsive” use of apps.

Cosponsored by Senators Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican, and Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, KOSA is backed by dozens of other senators. It has also won support from prominent children’s groups and medical associations including the American Academy of Pediatrics. And Snap, the company that owns Snapchat, recently became the first social media giant to back KOSA.

But the ambitious bill faces an uphill battle.

Civil rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group, have opposed it on free speech grounds. In particular, the groups say the bill’s definition of harm is so broad and so vague that it could lead social media and other apps to censor content on politically polarizing issues like reproductive health or gender identity.