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Parents of Trans Kids Urge the U.S. Senate to Reject the So-Called Kids Online Safety Act
"...legislation like KOSA would make our kids less safe, not more safe."
Hello, readers! Parker here. Let’s talk about some pending legislation in the U.S. Senate! [Insert the least enthusiastic “woo!” you can possibly muster here.]
But first, some housekeeping:
I’m on today’s edition ofpodcast, which you can check out here. I discuss yesterday’s piece about the Washington Post’s Susanna Gibson story, Nate Silver’s reaction to my story about the “Is Biden Too Old?” discourse, and Aaron Rodgers lasting only four plays as a member of the New York Jets. Check that out if you get a chance.
Okay! Now, onto today’s stuff.
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The Kids Online Safety Act is alive and well…. unfortunately.
Back in July, I wrote about the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), a misleadingly titled bill that would empower state attorneys general to censor content on the internet if they believe it is harmful to children. While this is ostensibly meant to target things like pro-anorexia forums or hardcore pornography, Republicans have been clear that they would use such a law to effectively ban or otherwise restrict content by or about LGBTQ people. There are other issues addressed in my piece, as well, which you can read here:
But today, I’m writing to share an update and a letter signed by parents of trans kids around the country who worry that KOSA would make life more difficult for them.
Earlier this month, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), one of the co-sponsors of KOSA, told the right-wing Family Policy Alliance that the bill would protect “minor children from the transgender in this culture.” Note that she didn’t say anything about trans kids here, just a general idea that kids shouldn’t know that trans people exist and that content from trans people, whether it’s explicit or not, should be put behind an age gateif it’s allowed on the internet at all.
If you’re curious how the right wants this to play out, just look to the timeline of Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda law,” which in 2013 made the “promotion of homosexuality among minors” a crime. The law was used to censor online media and shut down LGBTQ rights organizations. In 2022, Russia expanded the law to prohibit, as Human Rights Watch wrote, “sharing positive and even neutral information about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, and publicly displaying non-heterosexual orientations.”
Now, some of the Democratic co-sponsors of KOSA will argue that Blackburn is misrepresenting the bill. They seem oblivious to the fact that all that actually matters, no matter the bill’s actual intent, will be whether or not the wildly conservative Supreme Court can find enough wiggle room to interpret it the way Blackburn wants. It seems like a chance that anyone who cares about LGBTQ people should avoid.
Parents speak out against legislation that would harm their children.
The civil liberties and digital rights advocacy organization Fight for the Future helped organize an open letter signed by parents of trans and gender expansive kids urging supporters of the bill to hear them out.
You can read the text of the letter below or click here for the original version:
To the US Senate and all organizations supporting the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA):
We love our kids more than anything in the world. Just like any other parent, we would do anything to keep them safe. We hold deep sympathy for parents whose kids have been harmed by Big Tech social media companies and their abusive business practices. Our kids have also been harmed by these companies’ greed: their addictive design, their intrusive surveillance, their failure to address online hate, bullying, and abuse.
But legislation like KOSA would make our kids less safe, not more safe. It would grant extraordinary new power to right wing state attorneys general to dictate what content younger users can see on social media, cutting our kids off from lifesaving online resources and community. These are the same attorneys general that are actively working to ban gender affirming health care that saves kids’ lives, criminalize drag performances, and label families that accept our children as “groomers” and “child abusers.”
KOSA would also incentivize Big Tech platforms to engage in even more intrusive data collection, which disproportionately puts trans kids and their families at risk as more and more states move to strip us of our rights and criminalize our kids’ health care, education, and very existence. A recent report from the US Surgeon General showed that access to social media and online community can be a “lifeline” for LGBTQ kids. We need to hold these companies accountable and regulate them, not cut our kids off from resources that can help them thrive.
Big Tech is hurting our kids. KOSA would hurt them even more. We agree there is tremendous urgency around holding social media giants accountable and cracking down on their abusive business practices. That’s why we are imploring you to abandon KOSA, which is deeply flawed and faces overwhelming opposition from human rights, LGBTQ, racial justice, and civil liberties organizations. Then we can work together to advance more thoughtful proposals, like privacy, antitrust, and algorithmic transparency legislation that can address the harms of Big Tech without throwing trans kids and human rights under the bus.
Please listen to us. Our kids’ lives are at stake.
KOSA is just one of a handful of bad internet bills making the rounds. If you’d like to learn more about those bills and contact your lawmakers (Democrats or Republicans, it doesn’t hurt to send a message letting them know where you stand), you can do that at badinternetbills.com.
That’s it for me today. As always, thanks so much for reading, sharing, and commenting on this post. I will be back tomorrow with another edition of The Present Age.
I’ve had people say things like, “Yeah, but that wouldn’t really affect you, Parker. TPA is written for adults. Kids aren’t your audience!” It’s correct that my audience is adults (plus, it’s not like I’m posting explicit content here at TPA), but as anyone who has worked in online advertising can tell you, every layer of friction you put between people and the page you want them to land on will deter a sizable segment of those people from clicking through. Asking people to bust out their driver’s licenses before clicking on my newsletter would effectively destroy this newsletter and my ability to make a living as a writer. Just for being trans.