My view: To protect kids, we must hold social media accountable
Two years ago, I didn't know a thing about anonymous apps. Now, I have dedicated my life to advocating against them. "Why?" you ask.
It is the empty seat at our kitchen table. The bedroom, unchanged, collecting dust. It is the ever-constant memory of our son, Carson, that drives this advocacy.
On June 23, 2020, we awoke to the unexpected and unspeakable horror that our 16-year-old son had hung himself in our garage while we slept. Nothing can possibly prepare you for a tragedy like this. As a parent, the grief is catastrophic. The night before, we were congratulating Carson on getting his first summer job at a local pizza restaurant and we watched as he proudly wrote his upcoming work schedule on our kitchen calendar. So what went so horribly wrong that led to Carson's death just 12 short hours later?
What we didn't know was that Carson was being viciously cyberbullied by his high school Snapchat friends who were using the anonymous apps Yolo and LMK to hide their identities. Carson received over 100 negative, harassing and humiliating messages, including 40 in one day. Carson repeatedly asked his aggressors to identify themselves so that they could talk it out in person. No one ever did. The last search on Carson's phone before he ended his life was for hacks to find out the identities of his abusers.
Through a National Class Action Lawsuit we filed against Snap Inc., Yolo and LMK in May 2021, Snap Inc. immediately suspended Yolo and LMK. On March 17 this year, Snap Inc. announced that they will be banning all anonymous apps and features from Snapchat, which we believe is a result of our advocacy and lawsuit. As Snap Inc. stated in their new policies, "…anonymous apps pose risks for abuse that are impossible to mitigate at an acceptable level."
This should have been the positive ending to a horrendous tragedy, but no. Now a new anonymous app NGL (Not Gonna Lie) is going viral despite the multiple cyberbullying incidents and suicides that have occurred from all past anonymous apps. And that's where the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) comes in.
KOSA, which is making its way through Congress, is a new law that, if passed, would go a long way towards holding tech companies accountable for the way they use our children for monetary gain. One of the most important pieces of the bill is that it would require a standard duty of care for platforms to act in the best interests of minors, which would provide children and teens with default protections — shifting much of the burden to safeguard our children from the parent to the company. I was an engaged parent who regularly discussed social media with my sons. Ultimately, it was Big Tech that failed to protect Carson even while I tried everything in my power as a parent to keep him safe.
Tech companies treat America's children as sources of income. They create highly sophisticated algorithms that can monitor and predict our children's behavior for the sole purpose of keeping them glued to the screen. The longer they are connected, the more they are monitored, allowing for more of their data to be harvested and sold to the highest bidder. We must hold them accountable for the harm they cause kids like Carson.
This is why I am calling on all Oregon residents to contact Sen. Ron Wyden at 503-326-7525 and Sen. Jeff Merkley's offices at 503-326-3386, or the United States Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121, and ask them to co-sponsor KOSA. It is time to stop and finally hold social media companies accountable for their dangerous and addictive product designs.
Kristin Bride is a mother and online safety activist from Lake Osweg. In 2021, Kristin's testimonies were instrumental in strengthening Oregon's anti-bullying laws with HB 2631 (Carson's Law). She lives with her husband, Tom. Her son, Jack, attends college in California and her son, Carson, will remain "forever 16."
Find out more
The new suicide and crisis hotline in the United States is 988. The phone numbers in the attached graphic also can help.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.