US lawmakers are championing the free and open Internet in the name of “child safety,” and now they’re even saying the soft part out loud.
Numerous bills have popped up to hack at in recent years privacy on the internet and security. To name a few: FOSTA SESTApassed in 2018, which weakened Section 230 the Communications Decency Act 1996, making websites and social platforms liable for posts containing “sexual solicitation”; The EARN IT Actintroduced in 2020 and Reintroduced in 2022which would further weaken Section 230; Age verification bills, passed in Louisiana and elsewhere, requiring visitors to porn sites to show ID; and the Kids Online Safety Act, aka KOSA, launched in 2022 and reintroduced this year.
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At first glance, these calculations appear to be positive. We want everyone, especially children, to be safe and secure online. That’s why KOSA bipartisan supportincluding one Supporting President Joe Biden. But KOSA wouldn’t really protect children. It would make the internet less private for everyone and therefore less secure. Additionally, conservatives would use it to target LGBTQ content.
Over Labor Day weekend, Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn — KOSA’s primary co-sponsor — said that “underage children should be protected from transgender people.” [sic] “In this culture and this influence” should now be a top issue for conservatives, according to an interview with the conservative Christian organization Family Policy Alliance.
Blackburn then mentions KOSA and says it would impose a duty of care on social media platforms. This means platforms would be responsible for “preventing and mitigating harm to minors,” including content that promotes “self-harm, suicide, eating disorders, substance abuse and sexual exploitation,” according to Blackburn and co-sponsor of Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal KOSA One Pager. The Federal Trade Commission and individual Attorneys General would enforce this, as in the complete KOSA invoice.
“Even without targeted action, the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) could have serious adverse consequences for LGBTQ+ content online,” wrote trans reporter and advocate Erin Reed Blackburn’s commentsciting data from GLAAD on how LGBTQ content is disproportionately blocked or already banned from social media platforms.
In fact there is Double standards on social platforms: Platforms are increasingly scrutinizing content from marginalized groups, and platforms are not protecting them from harassment. LGBTQ Instagram usersFor example, Mashable told Mashable that they often face a shadow ban and suspension for posting non-nude, non-sexual content.
KOSA could massively impact everyone’s online rights
In addition to silencing LGBTQ people, KOSA can have other harmful consequences. So wrote Jason Kelley, director of activism at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). KOSA is a threat to our online rights In many ways. For one, attorneys general would have the power to block content they deem dangerous for young people — be it in everything from transgender health to substance use to gun ownership.
On the other hand, KOSA would require an age verification. It would “essentially require websites not to show young people certain types of content,” Kelley said in an interview with Mashable in March. “But then of course the question arises: How do they know who a young person is?” The answer is age verification.
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As Mashable reports on certain “age verification bills,” it is required Age verification doesn’t work. Because users would be required to share personally identifying information, there would be an increased privacy risk. Identity theft could increasefor example.
“There’s this huge censorship machine that also invades privacy,” Kelley told Mashable.
Additionally, age verification systems could be bypassed with software like VPNs, rendering them unusable for their intended purpose.
How do we protect children online? Device level filters, which block all “adults-only” websites, is a start. In addition, talk to your Children about online safety is mandatory. At the legislative level, Kelley is a proponent of stronger, broader privacy laws and increased competition.
“Part of the problem is that we’re focusing on limitations rather than other useful aspects of the internet that could make things better for everyone,” he said. “People don’t want their data collected, they want control over it [their data]…The reason these sites don’t exist is that there are no comprehensive data protection laws.”
For example, if the competition increases, there’s a YouTube competitor that has more features and allows you to make decisions about how the algorithms work – that would please users and force YouTube to keep up.
KOSA is not the solution. Blackburn said so himself: It would be used to take down transgender content online.