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KOSA Sponsors Praise Surgeon General’s Endorsement of Mental Health Labeling for Websites

WASHINGTON — The main sponsors of the controversial Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) bill urged her fellow lawmakers to fast track the controversial bill, after the Democratic administration’s surgeon general called on Congress to mandate “mental health warnings” on social media platforms.

As XBIZ reported, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) have been marketing KOSA as a bipartisan effort, selling it to their colleagues as a “protect the children” measure.

In February, Blackburn and Blumenthal released a new version of the bill, which they claim addressed privacy and censorship issues flagged by opponents, but critics insisted the revised version still presents insurmountable problems.

In a scathing 2022 editorial, Jason Kelley of leading digital rights organization Electronic Frontier Foundation argued that behind its kid-friendly name and supposed mission, KOSA hides “a plan to require surveillance and censorship of anyone 16 and under.”

The bill, Kelley noted, would actually “greatly endanger the rights, and safety, of young people online” while also chilling controversial speech — including sexual expression — across the internet.

On Monday, Blackburn praised surgeon general Dr. Vivek Murthy, after the Biden administration official published an opinion piece in The New York Times titled “Why I’m Calling for a Warning Label on Social Media Platforms.”

In the piece, Murthy proposed “a surgeon general’s warning label on social media platforms, stating that social media is associated with significant mental health harms for adolescents.”

A surgeon general’s warning label, he explained, would require congressional action and “would regularly remind parents and adolescents that social media has not been proven safe.”

Evidence from tobacco studies, he added, “show that warning labels can increase awareness and change behavior.”

“Thank you, @Surgeon_General,”  Blackburn posted on her X account, sandwiched between posts featuring Bible verses and scathing attacks against the Biden administration. “We must continue to bring attention to the harmful impact that social media has on our children. It is time to hold a vote and pass the bipartisan Kids Online Safety Act.”

Blackburn and Blumenthal also sent a statement to Newsweek praising Murthy’s proposal.

“We are pleased that the Surgeon General — America’s top doctor — continues to bring attention to the harmful impact that social media has on our children,” they wrote. “The time to hold a vote and pass the filibuster-proof bipartisan Kids Online Safety Act is now.”

Last fall, Blackburn “caused alarm among some transgender advocates when she said ‘protecting minor children from the transgender in this culture’ should be a top priority for lawmakers in a video in which she also praised KOSA,” NBC News’ Kat Tenbarge reported in December.

Blackburn’s statements about how conservative DAs might apply KOSA in the future to chill free speech around sexual issues and LGBTQ+ education align with the activism track record of NCOSE, Parents Television and Media Council, Citizens for Decency and other religious and cultural conservative groups that co-signed a letter in support of the previous version of KOSA.

Industry attorney and free-speech specialist Lawrence Walters, of Walters Law Group, explained in February that KOSA “would give the government new powers to interfere with the First Amendment rights of online platforms generally, threatens anonymous speech and incentivizes adoption of age verification for all users.”

The bill would also “burden access to adult materials by adults and is constitutionally suspect,” he told XBIZ, and urged anyone who cares about online freedom to voice opposition to the bill.

“Congress has put substantial pressure on social media sites to accept government regulation, so it is no surprise that some large platforms are bowing to that pressure — just as they did when it came to FOSTA / SESTA,” Walters noted. “The time to speak out is now.”

Main Image: Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and Republican Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn

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