First tech platform breaks ranks to support kids online safety bill

The owner of Snapchat is backing a bill meant to bolster online protections for children on social media, the first company to publicly split from its trade shop days before the company's CEO prepares to testify on Capitol Hill.

A Snap spokesperson told POLITICO about the company’s support of Kids Online Safety Act. The popular messaging service's position breaks ranks with its trade group NetChoice, which has opposed KOSA. The bill directs platforms to prevent the recommendation of harmful content to children, like posts on eating disorders or suicide.

Snap's CEO will appear with the heads of Meta, Discord, TikTok, and X, formerly Twitter, in a hearing on Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where lawmakers will grill them over their companies’ alleged failures to remove content promoting the sexual abuse of children.

KOSA co-sponsors Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) applauded Snap’s endorsement. “We are pleased that at least some of these companies are seemingly joining the cause to make social media safer for kids, but this is long overdue," they told POLITICO. "We will continue fighting to pass the Kids Online Safety Act, building on its great momentum to ensure it becomes law."

None of the other platforms testifying have taken public positions supporting KOSA to date. TikTok and Discord declined to comment on KOSA. X did not respond to a request for comment. Meta didn’t answer if it supports KOSA, but said it supports “internet regulation” and issued its own legislative “framework” this month calling on Congress to pass a bill to shift the responsibility to app stores, not platforms, to obtain parental consent for kids to download social media apps.

NetChoice's members include Snap, Meta, TikTok and X. A NetChoice spokesperson said it doesn’t necessarily represent the views of every single member company.

Snap’s divergence from its trade association could put pressure on other platforms to change their stance. While Meta has not taken a stance on the bill, it did announce earlier this month that it will voluntarily block suicide and eating disorder content from appearing in the feeds of teens on Instagram and Facebook, a move that’s similar to requirements in KOSA.

Blumenthal and Blackburn have panned Meta’s last-minute announcements to block harmful content and said their legislative proposal was an effort for the company to “deflect responsibility.”

Congress has failed to pass any kids’ online safety bills in recent years, leaving states to step in and enact 23 kids’ safety laws. Dozens of state attorneys general have also sued Meta claiming its products are addictive and harm teens’ mental health. Snap is also subject to a lawsuit from more than 60 families over the alleged sale of fentanyl on its Snapchat app.

Danny Weiss, a chief advocacy officer for kids safety group Common Sense, said while it may be too soon to tell if Snap’s support “breaks the dam of tech opposition … it is potentially the beginning of seeing companies come forward to embrace a new dawn on online safety for kids.”

A Snap spokesperson said its safeguards already align with KOSA. That includes setting teens’ accounts to the strictest privacy setting, providing tools for parents to set safety controls on the app, and limiting the collection and storage of kids’ data.

Next week’s hearing will be the first congressional appearance for Snap CEO Evan Spiegel, who will likely face tough questions about the alleged use of the app for the sale of illicit drugs.

Ahead of the hearing, tech companies have been rolling out new kids safety announcements — with Snap announcing the expansion of in-app parental controls last week. Meta also announced on Thursday that it’s now blocking all direct messaging between kids and anyone who they don’t currently follow, versus blocking from anyone over age 19.

Senate Commerce Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) postponed an expedited vote KOSA last year due to a request from bill sponsors following opposition from LGBTQ+ community and tech trade groups who say it could enable conservative attorneys general to restrict LGBTQ+ content on social media.

However, Blumenthal told POLITICO earlier this month that he is open to removing AG enforcement so that only the FTC would oversee the law. He said, “The key is effective enforcement, whether it's federal or state, one or the other.”

The Senate Judiciary hearing could also bolster further support for KOSA, although with a tight congressional schedule in an election year, passage could still be a long shot.

Cantwell's office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.