David Monahan, Fairplay: [email protected]
Dalia Hashad, ParentsTogether Action: [email protected]; (917) 418-4015
Grieving parents urge Congress to pass online protections for children before year’s end
57 parents who lost children to social media harms urge change ahead of visit to Capitol Hill
WASHINGTON, D.C. – November 14, 2022 – Parents whose children have died as a result of social media harms are demanding that lawmakers pass online protections for children before the end of the current congressional session. Today, 57 parents sent a letter to Congressional leadership urging passage of the Kids Online Safety Act (S. 3663) and the Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act (S. 1628).
Signatories to the letter lost children to dangerous viral “challenges,” to suicide after relentless cyberbullying, and to accidental overdose and fentanyl poisoning from drugs purchased through social media. Many signatories to the letter, as well as parents whose children have suffered serious non-lethal harms, will visit Capitol Hill this week to meet with lawmakers to share their stories and insist on online safety legislation for children and teens during the lame duck session.
In the letter, which was organized by advocacy organizations Fairplay, ParentsTogether Action, and Eating Disorders Coalition, the parents emphasized that despite attentive parenting, the risks created by Big Tech’s focus on profits above platform safety were impossible to address on an individual level. The lack of meaningful regulation coupled with the mental health crisis plaguing teens has created an emergency that must be addressed, according to the parent advocates:
“[W]e know from first-hand experience how digital platforms can turn the normal trials and tribulations of adolescence into incomprehensible tragedy. Our children should not be collateral damage in tech companies’ relentless push for profits. Big Tech must be held accountable for the business decisions that are taking our children’s lives.”
“Without KOSA and COPPA, online platforms will continue to have no accountability to the government or to the parents who bury their children,” said Deb Schmill, a signatory to the letter and mother to Becca, who died at age 18 as a result of fentanyl poisoning from drugs purchased through social media. “How many more young lives need to be lost before Congress passes legislation to protect our children and hold online platforms accountable?”
Despina Prodromodis, a signatory to the letter and mother of Olivia, who died of fentanyl poisoning after an adult stranger she met on Snapchat convinced her to try a pill that turned out to be fentanyl, said “We thought we did everything we could to protect our daughter but a stranger was able to get to her on social media. We need Congress to pass KOSA so that tech companies are held accountable for things that put kids in harm’s way, like letting a dangerous adult communicate with a child.”
Kristin Bride, a signatory to the letter and mother to Carson, who died of suicide at age 16 after relentless cyberbullying through Snapchat, said “With every day that passes, we continue to lose more children to anxiety, depression, eating disorders, suicide and other horrendous deaths. We need to pass the Kids Online Safety Act and COPPA 2.0 now, which will finally require social media companies to be accountable for their products like every other industry in America.”
“Parents, whether they know it or not, need COPPA and KOSA to keep their children safe and alive,” said Mary Rodee, who lost her son Riley to suicide after he became the victim of sextortion on Facebook. “My child is gone forever because of something that happened on Meta but they never even responded to us when we asked about the incident. Tech isn’t going to take accountability for our children’s safety without Congressional action.”
“Each of the letter’s signatories represent a child who has died because of Big Tech’s absolute failure to meaningfully regulate itself,” said Josh Golin, executive director of Fairplay. “ We cannot suffer another young life cut short because of congressional inertia. Now is the time to pass the Kids Online Safety Act and the Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act.”
“As a physician specializing in eating disorders and addiction, I have witnessed firsthand the exponential rise in the number of young patients who report that engagement on social media platforms has negatively impacted their mental health. I now ask all of my adolescent patients about cyberbullying. We have the solution to mitigate some of these harms through these two critical pieces of legislation,” stated Molly Perlman, MD, MPH, CEDS, Vice President, Board of Directors, Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy & Action.
“Thousands of parents have faced the unthinkable tragedy of losing their children because Big Tech will not imperil their bottom line by making meaningful changes that would protect children,” said Shelby Knox, Campaign Director at ParentsTogether Action. “Congress needs to pass legislation to protect kids online before any more parents lose their children.”