January 30, 2024. Four-hundred Grieving Parents Call on Senate to Pass Legislation to Regulate Big Tech and to Protect Their Right to Hold Social Media Corporations Accountable

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

David Monahan, Fairplay
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Carly Sfregola, American Association for Justice
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Four-hundred Grieving Parents Call on Senate to Pass Legislation to Regulate Big Tech and to Protect Their Right to Hold Social Media Corporations Accountable

Families of children and young adults who were victimized by online sexual abuse, bullying and drug trafficking want legislation to rein in Big Tech and allow access to the courts

Washington, D.C. – On behalf of nearly 400 parents and family members who believe their children were injured or killed due to the dangers of social media platforms, Fairplay and the American Association for Justice release a letter calling on the U.S. Senate to pass legislation to regulate Big Tech and protect their rights to hold Big Tech accountable, in anticipation of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this week. 

“If fentanyl is the bullet that is killing our children, social media is the gun,” said Sam Chapman of California, who tragically lost his son, Sammy, to fentanyl poisoning after Snapchat allegedly connected the teen to drug dealers through its recommendation, mapping, and location features.  

In a letter to the chamber’s leadership, 396 parents and other family members thanked Senate leadership for advancing two major bills – the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) and updates to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA 2.0) – while asking that parents’ rights to access the courts and protections through state law be protected in the legislation.   

“As a group of heartbroken and concerned parents, we work tirelessly to ensure that no parent will ever have to endure what we went through: the death or serious harm of a child due to Big Tech’s demonstrated disregard for children’s health and well-being,” the letter reads. “We are extremely grateful for your leadership in advancing the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) and updates to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA 2.0) …however, we implore you to please protect parents’ and families’ rights to hold Big Tech legally and publicly accountable through state laws, state protections, and having critical access to the courts.”  

Scheduled for tomorrow, the hearing will focus on examining the role Big Tech has played in failing to keep children safe online and will feature testimony from the CEOs of five major social media platforms, including Meta’s Mark ZuckerbergX’s (Twitter) Linda Yaccarino, and TikTok’s Shou Chew.   

The letter is signed by parents who are all part of a groundbreaking case filed against Meta Platforms, Inc., Instagram LLC, Snap, Inc., TikTok, Inc. Byte Dance, Inc., YouTube LLC, Google LLC, and Alphabet Inc. which includes claims filed by hundreds of parents alleging that their children were seriously injured or killed because social media platforms are designed in ways that result in sexual exploitation, addiction, self-destructive behavior, depression, eating disorders, severe self-harm, and suicide.  Signatories include the founding members of ParentsSOS, a new initiative of twenty families who have lost their children to social media harms who advocate for KOSA.

Grieving Families Speak Out  

“Social media companies have proven over decades that they cannot self-regulate themselves. They have created an environment in which drug dealers, child predators, traffickers, bullies, and harmful challenges target our children daily while they are on these apps. To Big Tech Companies our children are expendable; to our families they are our entire existence; they are our future and our country’s future. We need our honorable legislators to please put our children above Big Tech,” said Bridgette Norring of Minnesota, whose son, Devin, died after Snapchat allegedly matched him with a dealer who sold him contaminated drugs.  Bridgette is a member of ParentsSOS.

Selena Rodriguez of Connecticut was allegedly groomed by sexual predators on Instagram and persuaded to send sexually explicit photos and videos. After the photos were leaked online, Selena filmed herself committing suicide on Snapchat. Selena was just 11 years old. Selena’s sister, Destiny, said, “Every child deserves to feel connected without the fear of being taken advantage of or harmed.”  

In Arkansas, Jennie and David DeSerio’s son, 16-year-old Mason, was looking for videos to help him get through his break-up with his girlfriend. Instead, TikTok allegedly fed him content that encouraged him to commit suicide. Two weeks later, Mason shot himself. “It is time that we put American children and their safety first and foremost ahead of Big Tech profits. Our children are not only our future, but they are our most precious asset. It is time for our legislators to place the lives and safety of American children at the top of their political agendas,” said Jennie DeSerio.    

“We are seeing in real time what platforms like Instagram are doing to our kids — no parent should have to face what we did when we lost Englyn. It is critical that we have the right to demand answers from tech companies in Congress and in our courts. On behalf of America’s children, we ask that Congress protect our right to hold Big Tech accountable,” said Brandy and Toney Roberts whose daughter, Englyn, took her own life at their home in Louisiana, after allegedly learning how to hang herself on Instagram.  

In Michigan, John DeMay’s son, Jordan, took his life after allegedly facing blackmail, extortion, and threats online. John said, “Social media companies are hiding behind Section 230 without any accountability for the tremendous volume of criminal activity that is being fostered on their platforms. Such companies should be forced to make basic changes to eradicate such criminal behavior in lieu of Section 230 protections. If social media companies cannot operate profitably while engaging in a proper safe, and in a positive manner they shall NOT be protected from their vulnerabilities. Let the users and the courts decide.”