Senator proposes bill to protect children from internet danger

"While kids' technology use and media consumption have exploded in recent years, our laws have failed to keep pace," said Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass.
Girl using laptop and computer while sitting at illuminated desk
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By Claire Atkinson

Just days after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he wants to see the government step in to regulate tech companies, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., announced that he is proposing new legislation to protect children from the dangers of the internet.

Markey’s bill, called the Kids Internet Design and Safety (KIDS) Act, lays out six areas for new regulation:

  • Ending “manipulative and damaging design features” that push children to spend more time with screens, such as autoplay video
  • Implementing rules that dictate how and what ads kids see online
  • Creating rules that make sure algorithms do not surface extreme content to children
  • Requiring companies give parents guidance on “kid-healthy content”
  • Establishing incentives for “positive content creation”
  • Creating a transparency requirement for tech companies around automated systems, enforced by the Federal Trade Commission

The proposed legislation comes in response to growing concern from parents, advocacy organizations and politicians focused on the addictive nature of some online games, such as Fortnite, the commercialization of childhood in YouTube “unboxing” videos, and weak policing of graphic content.

"While kids' technology use and media consumption have exploded in recent years, our laws have failed to keep pace," Markey said in a statement. "I'm proud to introduce the KIDS Act to combat manipulative design features, unhealthy marketing practices, and the amplification of harmful content that makes the internet a gauntlet of hazards for children today."

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Research from Common Sense Media, an organization that reviews entertainment for families, found that 98 percent of kids under the age of eight have access to a mobile device at home.

The KIDS Act is scheduled to be unveiled at the Truth About Tech Conference on Thursday at the Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies.

The federal government last passed legislation to protect kids against offensive content in 1990 when the Children’s Television Act was written. Since then, the viewing habits of young people have changed as platforms, including YouTube, Instagram and Netflix, grow in popularity. None of those companies are bound by current legislation in the Television Act.

Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., on Capitol Hill on March 27, 2019, in Washington.Alex Brandon / AP file

Jim Steyer, a civil rights attorney and chief executive of Common Sense, told NBC News the legislation is necessary because of the inability of tech companies to fully police their platforms.

He pointed to a video recorded by the shooter in New Zealand who killed 50 people in two mosques, which Facebook, YouTube and Twitter struggled to contain.

“Those guys livestreamed a mass murder on Facebook,” Steyer said. “How can you have a set-up like that?”

Steyer said legislation dealing with the changing consumer habits of children is overdue.

He said he also wants to see the FTC take action.

“There’s been a seismic shift and Congress has done absolutely nothing, and the federal government is missing in action,” Steyer said. “Lawmakers have just sat on their hands.”