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Just like Big Tobacco targeted young kids knowing their products were harmful, Big Tech is doing the same thing with another product line. When are we going to wake up?

The time to act is NOW!

When the surgeon general warned that smoking could cause physical health problems, it ushered in momentous change across America. That change resulted in the tobacco industry being required to fund a massive education campaign.  

iStock depressed child

Big Tech’s negative impact on society will continue to be significant and long-lasting unless harms to children are addressed. (iStock)

Now, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy is warning that social media can cause mental health problems and other risks for children. Feelings of isolation and depression fueled by social media platforms further exacerbated the isolation and depression stemming from COVID-19. The extent to which children are trafficked and preyed upon, depicted in sexually abusive ways, and exposed to depravity on these platforms is sickening. 

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Given this deteriorating digital environment, will the surgeon general’s warning again usher in momentous change? It’s time to urge Big Tech to fund a national education campaign like Big Tobacco.

Big Tech’s negative impact on society will continue to be significant and long-lasting unless the above-mentioned harms to children are proactively addressed. Unregulated social media companies generate marketing dollars using algorithms to drive traffic to their sites, which are invested in more sophisticated algorithms generating more money. 

The collateral damage is the suffering of our children. Regulation is needed.  

First, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act 1996 (CDA), which inadvertently provided legal immunity for Big Tech, MUST be repealed. Congress’ original goal with Section 230 was well intended as a “Good Samaritan Defense” for good faith efforts taken by technology companies to prevent children from accessing pornographic content. 

However, profit-hungry technology companies in cahoots with clever lawyers and misguided federal courts abused this protection, creating an anything goes loophole granting Big Tech sweeping immunity and lack of accountability.

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In a July 23, 2013, letter, most of the attorneys general urged Congress to amend Section 230 by allowing states to prosecute websites hosting unlawful content. The AG’s commonsense suggestion was ignored.

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It is conceivable that Section 230 could be repealed with a single sentence: “Section 509 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 is hereby repealed.” That section is found in 47 USC Section 230 in toto.  

Further, the Biden administration must recognize the significant harms to our children in the digital world, listen to the surgeon general’s warning, and ensure that Attorney General Merrick Garland prioritizes the aggressive prosecution of existing federal laws criminalizing sexual predation, obscene pornography and the online sexual exploitation and abuse of children.

Chuck Schumer speaks to press on debt ceiling

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks during a news conference at the Capitol, April 17, 2023. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Congress needs to vehemently redirect this course and pass bipartisan legislation to rein in this nonsense. On May 4, the bipartisan Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies (EARN IT) Act of 2022 was re-introduced in the Senate, and passed unanimously out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. If enacted, this law will remove blanket immunity for Big Tech companies that knowingly facilitate distribution of child sex abuse material (CSAM) on their platforms. 

It is critical that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., calls for a floor vote this session to pass EARN IT, which also affords innocent victims of content depicting their abuse, as well as state attorneys general, to seek legal recourse against online platforms that engage in the distribution and circulation of CSAM.

Several other bipartisan bills were recently re-introduced in the Senate, including the Kids Online Safety Act, requiring social media platforms to implement stronger safety measures to mitigate harm to minors, and The Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act, establishing greater online privacy protections for children and minors. 

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I urge Congress to consider a blanket repeal of Section 230, pass the above-mentioned legislation, establish a regulatory regime, and require Big Tech to fund a multibillion-dollar education campaigns similar to the one required of Big Tobacco. 

In the meantime, it’s critical that parents continue to be the first line of defense to protect their children online; there are free resources available at internetsafety101.org.

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Recently, actress Kate Winslet issued a warning on British Television’s Academy Awards: “To people in power and to people who can make a difference, please criminalize harmful content, please eradicate harmful content – we don’t want it. We want our children back. We don’t want to lie awake terrified for our children’s mental health.”  

The U.S. Surgeon General has issued a warning. Actresses are issuing warnings and parents are crying out for help. The children’s voices themselves need to be heard in Congress, the Oval Office and Big Tech boardrooms. 

These are nonpartisan issues that deserve wide bipartisan support. How many warnings will it take for them to listen and act?

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