Parents are calling on Congress to enact stricter rules monitoring kids’ data and accounts on social media, claiming the platforms played a part in causing their children’s harm or even death.
In a letter to Congressional members including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), and others, 55 parents wrote they lost their children, listed as ages 10 through 21 years old to “fentanyl poisoning from drugs purchased through social media,” and “dangerous viral ‘challenges’ that took their lives.”
They said they blame “Big Tech,” claiming they “want to prioritize profits over the safety and well-being of young people.” The aim of the letter was to urge Congress to act now before more children are hurt or die.
Several of the challenges that have been reported contributed to children’s lack of safety have included the TikTok tide pod challenge, the NyQuil chicken challengeand the blackout challenge which encouraged young people to hold their breath until they pass out.
Social media has been shown to play a continuing role in depression and anxiety in teenagers, and according to a study by BYUteen girls who spend two to three hours on social media each day have an elevated risk of suicide. The inclusion of social media challenges has played a prominent role according to a University of Utah blog that references the Blue Whale challenge on Snapchat which encourages teens to engage in unhealthy behaviors such as cutting or burning themselves.
The parents of children who died from the social media challenges, cyberbullying, and drugs asked Congress to enact the Kids Online Safety Act and the Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act. These bills would allow parents to have more of a role in their children’s online presence by monitoring their activity and would require companies to implement safeguards and expand restrictions for collecting teens’ data.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) is leading a separate online safety measure and said at a news conference that passing the bill is “[his] personal priority. I’ve worked on a comprehensive privacy bill. All in favor of it. There are still some obstacles to it. This bill is doable. … We need to do this bill.” He added, “I will be deeply disappointed and angry if we fail to do this.”
Maurine Molak says she lost her son David to suicide after he encountered several months of cyberbullying on social media. He was 17 years old. She told The Washington Post that her son “could not make it stop,” adding, “I could not make it stop.”
Deb Schmill, who also signed the letter to Congress, told the outlet her daughter Becca died from fentanyl poisoning that she and a friend found on social media. She said, “The social media companies are not doing enough to prevent it, and this bill will hold them accountable for that.”
The organizers of the Parents Together group are meeting with top lawmakers this week to urge them to do what they can to get this legislation passed. The group added, “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.”