Mother of dead teen urges Senate to protect children from social media harm

A mother told the Senate Judiciary Committee on February 14 that despite good parenting, her teenage son still committed suicide after being bullied on social media, and discussed with him the dangers of online social networking.

In June 2020, Oregon’s Kristin Bride lost her 16-year-old son, Carson. She said Carson got his first no-app phone when he was in 8th grade.

He joined social media when he was a freshman in high school. The mother explained, “It’s how all the students made new connections.”

Just weeks after his death, she discovered that Carson’s high school classmates had been bullying him on Snapchat. They hid their identities using apps like Yolo and LMK.

These applications operated through Snapchat’s user interface and allowed Snapchat users to invite others to ask or answer questions anonymously.

“After his death, we discovered that Carson had received nearly 100 negative, harassing, sexually explicit, and degrading messages,” she said, “including 40 in just one day.”

In May 2021, she filed a lawsuit against Snap, Yolo, and LMK. Although Snap suspended the hidden identity apps from its platform, Yolo and LMK found Section 230 protection.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act 1996 holds you responsible for your online actions and statements, but not those of others. The law prohibits most lawsuits against users or services based on testimonies of others.

But Bride told lawmakers it was about the organizations that misled her son into believing the apps were safe and users’ identities could be revealed, not what the bully said.

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“Let’s be clear – these are not coincidences, accidents or unforeseen consequences,” she said, “they are the direct result of products designed to engage and monetize America’s children.”

Legislation like the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) “is long overdue,” she told lawmakers. KOSA requires that social media platforms take careful consideration when developing apps that are primarily used by children and young people.

Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced KOSA at the 117th Congress, but it did not become law.

“I pledge that we will work on a major reform of Section 230, bipartisanally,” he said at the hearing.

“It’s almost like social media platforms work in the days of the Wild West and anything goes, and when these kids are on these platforms, they are the product,” said Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn .). . She was one of the KOSA co-sponsors of the previous congress.

Although the online world has its advantages, Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said it poses a significant risk and danger to children. He added that child safety is a major concern in almost every aspect of the real world, but not in the online world.

“We lock the door and teach our kids not to talk to strangers, but in the virtual world, criminals and bullies don’t have to pick a lock or wait outside the playground to hurt our kids,” he said, “they have to just lurking in the shadows online.”

The situation should be addressed from a customer protection perspective, said Sen. Lindsey Graham (RS.C.).

“They make money on the basis of eyeballs and advertising — there isn’t a regulator in America with any significant power to control that,” Graham said, adding that “there are more bills being introduced in this area than on any subject I’ve read about.” white – all are bipartisan.”

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Another panelist, Emma Lembke, studies political science at Washington University in St. Louis.

She founded the Log Off Movement, a youth initiative campaigning for laws to protect children online. She started using social media in 6th grade. “These platforms were almost magical,” she said.

However, that all changed as her screen time increased. Lembke said she “scrolled mindlessly for five to six hours a day.”

In 9th grade, she reached a “personal breaking point” that prompted her to temporarily remove social media apps from her phone, saying she’s still recovering from the damage it caused.

Through Log Off, Lembke said, “I’ve heard stories of unwanted direct messages, malicious cyberbullying, and dangerous rabbit holes for anorexia.”

Lembke urged lawmakers to hold big tech companies accountable.

“Integrating our lived experience into the regulatory process is essential to get it right,” she said.