A bipartisan bill “would give parents that toolbox that they need to help monitor what their children are seeing in the virtual space,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn says.
“Kids are being exposed to things in the virtual space that we would never expose them to in the physical space, so it’s important for parents to have that toolbox, and it’s important to put the responsibility on these social media platforms,” says Blackburn, R-Tenn., who on May 2 reintroduced the Kids Online Safety Act with Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.
“That is what this legislation does,” Blackburn says. “It requires these platforms to open up those algorithms and make them available not only to parents, but also to researchers, so that there can be a monitoring of the harms that children are exposed to.”
The legislation was initially introduced in February 2022 and unanimously passed the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee in July, according to the Tennessee senator’s office. However, “the clock ran out before we got it off the floor,” Blackburn says.
Blackburn joins today’s episode of “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss the legislation and how its requirements would be implemented. She also discusses the end of the public health measure known as Title 42, and how that will affect illegal immigration.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:
Samantha Aschieris: Joining today’s show is Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. Sen. Blackburn is a member of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, the Finance Committee, the Judiciary Committee, and the Veterans Affairs Committee. Senator, thank you so much for joining us.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn: I’m delighted to join you. Thank you.
Aschieris: Of course. Now, earlier this month, you and Democrat Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut introduced the Kids Online Safety Act. Now, the act has bipartisan support. I wanted to first have you tell us a little bit about this legislation.
Blackburn: Yes. We reintroduced this bill and we have 33 bipartisan co-sponsors on this legislation. Last year, we got it out of the Commerce Committee, but the clock ran out before we got it off the floor. But this bill would give parents that toolbox they need to help monitor what their children are seeing in the virtual space.
Kids are being exposed to things in the virtual space that we would never expose them to in the physical space, so it’s important for parents to have that toolbox, and it’s important to put the responsibility on these social media platforms.
That is what this legislation does. It requires these platforms to open up those algorithms and make them available not only to parents, but also to researchers, so that there can be a monitoring of the harms that children are exposed to.
It also would require an annual audit of what is happening with these social media platforms. Likewise, it would give parents a portal that they could report some of this harmful activity, such as cyberbullying; attracting children to pedophiles, to drug dealers; of videos and postings that encourage self-harm, like suicide and bulimia.
And this is what parents have said we want to see happen with social media. That is why you’ve got hundreds of organizations and thousands of parents and kids that are supportive of this legislation.
Aschieris: Absolutely. You just mentioned some of the requirements of this legislation. Could you speak more to how they would be implemented and what you would expect from these social media companies?
Blackburn: Yes. You would look at the social media companies having to implement these, and once the legislation is signed and put into law, if they do not follow these requirements, which will be statutorial requirements, then the authority to put in place the accountability, the punishment, the penalties will be with the [Federal Trade Commission] and the various state attorneys general.
Aschieris: And I also wanted to just briefly talk about one social media platform in particular, TikTok, that’s gotten so much bipartisan pushback. There’s efforts throughout the country to ban it. Even at the state level, Democrats and Republicans have taken action to ban the app over both privacy and national security concerns. How would this legislation be applied to TikTok and social media platforms more broadly moving forward?
Blackburn: Well, TikTok would be under these same guidelines, and so they would have to open those algorithms. They would have to expose the type of thing that they’re posting. They would be required to take this down. They would have to do an annual audit. And it is important to do that, to put that burden on the social media platforms.
Now, when you have people saying, or some of the social media platforms say, “Well, it’s free speech. It’s the parents’ responsibility,” but the parents can’t get the social media platforms to respond to them.
We have people that report, moms that we know that report cyberbullying, they never get a response. Or if they get a response, it is something closely akin to a statement that says, “This does not violate our community standards.”
We have parents who have reported things like the TikTok choking challenge, things that cause suicide or cause death, and things that encourage bulimia, and the social media platforms refuse to remove these.
So that’s what parents are up against.
Aschieris: Senator, I just want to shift topics and get your thoughts on what we’ve been seeing at our southern border. With Title 42 being lifted, we’ve seen countless videos of illegal immigrants walking into the U.S. What happens now?
Blackburn: What is happening now is that people from across the globe are working with the cartels. We know last year, at the end of the year, there were people from 176 different countries that came across that southern border. We know so far this year, there’s been about 130 different countries that have crossed that border. So you are seeing the cartels function as global businesses. They are recruiting people to come here.
We know that some countries are releasing criminal offenders, felony offenders, what we would call a felony offense—rape, murder, aggravated assault, robbery, battery. They’re releasing them from their jails and the cartels are transporting them to our southern border.
We know that we have apprehended 332 people with their names on the terrorist watchlist. We know that we have apprehended dozens of MS-13 gang members. We have apprehended dozens of criminal aliens. And that is in the people that we know. Think about the ones that got away, that we do not know who it is that is coming in, what they are bringing.
We know 19,000 pounds of fentanyl have been apprehended so far this year at the southern border—19,000 pounds. Think about the pounds of fentanyl that have come across that border that were not apprehended. Talk to any sheriff. They will tell you that drugs, fentanyl, fentanyl coming across, the apprehensions that they are getting in their communities from fentanyl, it is at the top of the list. We recently had a fentanyl distribution gang in Chattanooga, Tennessee, that was apprehended.
Aschieris: Wow. That is absolutely terrifying.
You brought up these immigrants that are coming over that are on the terror watchlist. We just had over the weekend Bill Melugin of Fox News reporting that in the San Diego Sector there was actually an Afghan national who was arrested who was on the FBI’s terror watchlist. So it’s absolutely terrifying to just know who’s coming into our country. It’s great news and terrifying that this arrest was made, but we are still waiting to see—many of these people, we might not ever know who’s actually coming into the country.
Just one final question for you. President [Joe] Biden was asked on Sunday how he thought things were going at the border and he replied, “Much better than you-all expected.” What’s your response to the president?
Blackburn: I don’t know what video the president is watching or who is briefing him, but when you have an open border and people are illegally entering the country, and his administration continues to work overtime to find a way to make illegal legal, that is a problem.
Aschieris: Sen. Blackburn, thank you so much for joining us. Just before we go, do you have any final thoughts either on your legislation or Title 42, or both?
Blackburn: Yes. I would encourage all of the parents that are listening to your podcast, they can find me on social media, @MarshaBlackburn. Our website is blackburn.senate.gov. They’ll be able to follow the work that we’re doing with the Kids Online Safety Act. They can keep up with what we are working on. I encourage them to do so, and I encourage them to call their legislators and encourage passage of the Kids Online Safety Act.
Aschieris: Great. Sen. Blackburn, thank you so much.
Blackburn: Thank you. Bye-bye now.
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