EXCLUSIVE — Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) is hoping to give parents “the toolbox that they need” to protect their children on social media with her new bipartisan legislation that she partnered with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) to introduce this month.
“We held a series of hearings looking at big tech and what was happening to our children, and it was like we opened the floodgates,” she said of hearings the senators held on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security.
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Blackburn also emphasized to the Washington Examiner the twofold dangers of Tiktok, the massively popular social media application owned by Chinese company Bytedance.
“Tiktok is a national security risk. It is a surveillance tool of the Chinese Communist Party,” she explained, adding that the application also poses the same dangers to children as other social media giants.
Chinese law dictates that any organization could be forced to hand over information to state intelligence. However, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning insists that China hasn’t and doesn’t plan to compel companies to “collect or provide data, information or intelligence” held in foreign countries.
Ning also claimed the U.S. “has not provided any evidence so far to prove that TikTok threatens U.S. national security.”
But, Blackburn is not convinced by the claims of Tiktok or China. “The Chinese Communist Party is who is going to benefit from access to that data,” she said.
Data security isn’t the only threat presented by Tiktok, she said. “I’ve talked with moms who have lost their kids because they’ve done the TikTok choking challenge, and it went terribly wrong, and their death was an accident. I’ve also talked to parents whose kids have met drug dealers on Tiktok,” the Tennessee Republican revealed.
“You need to see what is happening here. You have this content, things we would never allow our kids to be exposed to in the physical space, but on some of these platforms, and certainly on Tiktok, They’re being exposed to these things,” she continued.
The reintroduced Kids Online Safety Act “would give parents the toolbox that they need. It would require that social media platforms design for safety and that they have that safety setting by default — that parents have a portal where they can report some of these postings and videos that encourage self-harm, suicide, eating disorders that put kids in touch with drug dealers and pedophiles,” she explained.
“And it would give parents what they need as far as being able to control those algorithms and open up those algorithms and make them responsible,” Blackburn added.
Further, she said, “All of these social media platforms [would be] responsible for an annual audit of what is on their site.”
This is important, Blackburn explained, because “right now, parents can’t get this information. They can’t find out about the algorithms.”
In many cases, she noted, the social media companies will not even work with or respond to concerned parents.
“And these companies—these content generators need to be held responsible,” she said.
The new version of this bill features provisions regarding age verification made to provide the legislation with a better chance of passing.
However, some are still not convinced that the bill will effectively protect children.
“There are two fatal flaws in this bill,” according to Fight for the Future director Evan Greer. “One is a misunderstanding of how platforms will react to this liability and the other is a fundamental misunderstanding of how technology works.”
Fight for the Future is a “group of artists, engineers, activists, and technologists who have been behind the largest online protests in human history, channeling internet outrage into political power to win public interest victories previously thought to be impossible. We fight for a future where technology is a force for liberation— not oppression.”
The organization voiced concern that efforts to mobilize and organize will be hindered.
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On Wednesday, Gov. Greg Gianforte (R-MT) signed a bill into law officially banning Tiktok in its entirety, making Montana the first state to do so.
“Governor Gianforte has signed a bill that infringes on the First Amendment rights of the people of Montana by unlawfully banning TikTok, a platform that empowers hundreds of thousands of people across the state,” the platform said in response. “We want to reassure Montanans that they can continue using TikTok to express themselves, earn a living, and find community as we continue working to defend the rights of our users inside and outside Montana.”