On February 14, 2023, the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing titled, “Protecting Our Children Online.” Chaired by Sen. Durbin, the hearing examined the potentially harmful effects of social media use on young people, and represented a renewal of the Committee’s efforts to pass legislation to protect children and teenagers online. In 2022, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved several bills designed to enhance the online safety and wellbeing of children and teenagers, among them the Kids Online Protection Act (“KOSA”), but the bills did not receive a floor vote. During the hearing, Democratic and Republican senators expressed their commitment to pass bills that would limit the immunity of social media companies under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, and would require website and app developers to design products that protect young people from cyberbullying, online sexual exploitation, social media addiction, and other harms.
The hearing witnesses, advocates in this space, focused on the negative effects of social media use on youth brain development, and urged the federal government to match or exceed the commitments made by the private sector to fund and support research into the impact social media platforms have on children and teens. They also proposed developing warnings and user guidelines for social media platforms, and expressed support for proposed federal legislation that would protect children online.