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KOSA’s Advocates Are Ignoring Censorship Concerns

The Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) was rushed through markup yesterday by the Innovation, Data, and Commerce subcommittee in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill sets dangerous precedent that would grant the government greater power over free speech online and would grant partisan bureaucrats authority over what speech is “appropriate” for American families to see and hear. 

Rather than have the government pick what is appropriate for families to view online, parental rights must lead in the conversation to combat harm against minors online. KOSA’s ignorance to that will exacerbate digital censorship and heighten government influence over what Americans see online. Given that First Amendment scholars, family-values conservatives and internet rights groups have all sounded the alarm about KOSA’s censorship issues, the bill’s supporters must seriously engage with these concerns and stop ignoring them.

Many Republicans have been clear that they stand against any attempt by the government to infringe upon our American right to free speech and parental autonomy. Yet that is exactly what KOSA does. By handing powers to Lina Khan’s FTC, she will be allowed to tell websites and online services that they have failed in their “duty of care” by not sufficiently limiting access to information that FTC officials dislike.

The bill would also establish a “Kids Online Safety Council,” an advisory body that could easily be politicized to censor speech disliked by the government (sounds quite a bit like the Disinformation Governance Board…). This council, combined with transparency requirements that could lead to over-censorship by platforms seeking to avoid legal liabilities, creates a perfect storm for the suppression of legitimate speech.

Censorship concerns regarding KOSA have been heavily discussed for almost a year, when key KOSA-proponent Sen. Marsha Blackburn admitted to a reporter that the law could be used to go after speech on issues that she disagrees with. Family-values conservatives and First Amendment rights advocates have also raised concerns with how the law could be used to facilitate government censorship. If the Senator suggests that KOSA’s importance is demonstrated by support from across the aisle, then she should accept that similarly diverse concerns about censorship in the bill deserve to be engaged with too.

This should be particularly alarming for Republicans who have been keen to raise frustrations over the censorship of conservative speech online, including KOSA sponsor Sen. Blackburn who in 2022 rebuked the Biden Administration for what she characterized as “deeply concerning” actions by administration officials to censor online speech. KOSA’s dangerous precedent for free speech should clearly merit greater examination by those who have promised their voters to prevent digital censorship.

Parents, not the government, should decide what content their family can see online.

KOSA’s paternalistic approach undermines the autonomy of parents and sets a dangerous precedent for government intrusion into family life, creating an awkward situation where Republicans are pushing for parental rights through school choice while simultaneously providing government with the tools to control digital speech and overrule autonomy for American families.

Lawmakers who consider digital censorship to be a key internet-age concern must engage with the diverse range of experts who have raised the alarm about KOSA’s risk to free speech online. Alternative solutions NetChoice advocates for to protect families online don’t have the censorship issues woven through KOSA and would also be more effective at tackling predation of children online by helping law enforcement put predators in prison and providing families with the resources they need for effective digital parenting.