© 2024 Texas Public Radio
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Sen. Ted Cruz joins parents in San Antonio to mark progress of Kids Online Safety Act

Sen. Ted Cruz (center right) shakes hands with Maurine Molak (center left) in front of pictures of children who died by suicide after online harassment. He joined them to discuss the progress of the Kids Online Safety Act. Dave Peterson, interim president and CEO of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, stands between them.
Josh Peck
Senator Ted Cruz (center right) shakes hands with Maurine Molak (center left) before the press conference about the progress of the Kids Online Safety Act.

Get TPR's best stories of the day and a jump start to the weekend with the 321 Newsletter — straight to your inbox every day. Sign up for it here.

Sen. Ted Cruz met with with parents of children who died by suicide after they experienced online bullying and harassment. He stood with them at a press conference on Thursday to discuss the progress of the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA).

The legislation, which has bipartisan support, says that its proponents say will help keep children safe online by giving parents more tools to monitor and control children’s online activity and by imposing a legal duty of care on social media companies to take steps to protect kids online.

It was unanimously voted out of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation in late July, putting it one step closer to a full Senate vote. Cruz chairs the committee and supports the bill.

“These phones are inviting into their homes, into their bedrooms, into their minds, into their lives every evil force on the planet,” Cruz said at the press conference. “It’s inviting sexual predators, it’s inviting people who want to abuse or harm our kids. It’s inviting classmates who are empowered by anonymity to engage in bullying.”

Despite KOSA having the endorsement of the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, several civil liberties, LGBTQ+, and data privacy groups like the ACLU, GLAAD, and the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) oppose the bill.

Emma Llansó, the director of the Free Expression Project at CDT, said she was concerned that the authority KOSA gives to state attorneys general could be abused.

“What KOSA may end up doing is giving state attorneys general — some of whom are already campaigning against trans youth and other young members and adult members of the LGBTQ community — a tool to go after online services if the state attorney general disagrees with the kind of information about gender-affirming care or access to reproductive health care or other kinds of information are being made available on that service,” she said.

Ryan Poppe
Texas Public Radio
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

But parents at the press conference said the bill was necessary protection for kids, and they recounted the stories of how they lost their children to harrowing cyberbullying or online sexual exploitation.

Maurine Molak’s son David died by suicide in 2016 and launched David’s Legacy Foundation in San Antonio to push for state and federal legislation to protect kids online. David’s Law was passed in Texas in 2017, and it required school districts to implement mandatory reporting, prevention, and mediation programs.

“With over 40% of teenagers struggling with persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, and with youth suicide exponentially on the rise, we can no longer sit by and not address one of the leading contributors to youth mental health distress: social media and the design of their platforms,” Molak said.

Llansó said she and other groups also felt that imposing moderation requirements for minors onto social media platforms to protect kids’ mental health wouldn’t be simple or clean, and it could actually backfire.

“Online service providers cannot, with a fine-toothed comb, separate out the bad content talking about suicide from the good or supportive or useful content talking with kids who have mental health issues and who are reaching out and seeking support,” Llansó said. “Online service providers will just sweep up all of the content related to mental health.”

She said some of the bill’s pieces, like the ability for parents to limit algorithmic recommendations and restrict public access to personal data, should be options for all users, not just children.

Brian Montgomery, who lives in Mississippi and attended the press conference, lost his son to suicide after he was catfished and sexually extorted. He said parents knew they had the job to protect their kids, but they needed help.

“I’m not asking — we’re not asking — for industry to be the parents of our kids,” he said. “But we’ve got to have help. We’ve got to have tools within these platforms, [and] we’ve got to hold them accountable.”

Cruz said he expects a Senate vote before the end of the year, followed by KOSA’s passage in the House of Representatives and signing by President Joe Biden.

TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.