Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) Poses Serious First Amendment Concerns

by Shealeigh

In an article for Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), authors Jason Kelly, Aaron Mackey, and Joe Mullin argue that updates to the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) aren’t enough to fix its core First Amendment issues, which will endanger LGTBQ youth, young people seeking mental health information, and many other at-risk communities. EFF contends that “KOSA remains a dangerous bill that would allow the government to decide what types of information can be shared and read online by everyone.

It would still require an enormous number of websites, apps, and online platforms to filter and block legal, and important, speech.” In 2022, lawmakers were under extreme scrutiny by advocacy groups, including GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign, who believed KOSA would suppress critical resources for LGTBQ youth and restrict access to online communities. 

The newly revised KOSA bill is updated with a “duty of care” that requires platforms to “exercise reasonable care in the creation and implementation of any design feature” to mitigate harms to minors, which are outlined in the act, such as self-harm, eating disorders, substance abuse, among others. But EFF posits that because there is no case law defining “reasonable care,” platforms are put in legally compromising positions for hosting otherwise legal content on their websites, such as information about support groups for vulnerable and marginalized youth and suicide prevention resources. 

EFF maintains, “censorship is not the right approach to protecting people online, and that the promise of the internet is one that must apply equally to everyone, regardless of age. 

Corporate outlets, such as the Washington Post and New York Times, have covered KOSA and its subsequent adjustments by lawmakers but have not examined the ambiguity of some of these updates and their implications, such as its “duty of care,” which EFF has called a “duty of censorship.”

For more information about this topic, see Steve Macek’s Project Censored recent Dispatch about KOSA and avram anderson and Shealeigh Voitl’s Dispatch about related legislation, including the EARN IT Act.

Source: Jason Kelley, Aaron Mackey, and Joe Mullin, “Don’t Fall for the Latest Changes to the Dangerous Kids Online Safety Act,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, February 15, 2024.

Student Researcher: Vincenzo Champion (City College of San Francisco)

Faculty Evaluator: Jennifer Levinson (City College of San Francisco)