A new law would force tech companies to open up about child safety

Democrats and Republicans in Congress are proposing three laws aimed at giving parents better visibility into what their kids are doing online and making social media companies liable for crimes related to their apps.

This effort is being supported by parents of children who have died from taking drugs purchased through social media platforms like Snapchat.

The latest of the three, called Sammy’s Law, or Let Parents Choose Protection Act, is being drafted by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., and could be introduced in the House of Representatives in a few weeks, said two people close to the condition of the Anonymity strived to discuss private conversations freely. The bill would require major social media companies to allow parents to track their children online through third-party software.

In a statement to NBC News, Wasserman Schultz said she is working with Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and expects to announce a GOP co-sponsor for Sammy’s Law soon.

The bill comes after years of activism by a community of parents whose children died from a fentanyl overdose following drug deals facilitated on social media platforms like Snapchat, where drug dealers have found private spots to solicit young people. However, those efforts have also been thwarted by some concerns from privacy advocates that the legislation could lead to overly intrusive surveillance.

Wasserman Schultz’s bill is named after Sammy Chapman, who died in 2021 at the age of 16 from fentanyl-laced drugs he bought from a drug dealer on Snapchat.

Laura Berman and Sammy Chapman.
Laura Berman and Sammy Chapman.Courtesy of Samuel Chapman

Since then, Sammy’s parents have been among the loudest voices demanding change from social media companies. His father, Samuel, and his mother, Laura Bermaneventually went on to develop and advocate for Sammy’s Law at the Organization for Social Media Safety.

They quickly learned that they weren’t the only parents struggling with the unfortunate consequences of drug-related crimes that intersected with social media platforms often used by children.

A growing community of parents have lost their children to social media-related deaths. They have become some of the loudest voices pushing for laws and regulations that would affect how social media platforms operate.

Amy Neville, whose 14-year-old son Alex died in 2020 after using drugs purchased on Snapchat, said she initially thought parents could potentially work with the platform to make it better.

Sammy’s Law would join two other bipartisan bills introduced in Congress earlier this year aimed at reducing the impact of social media on children and holding social media companies accountable for crimes related to their platforms.

In the house, the Combat harmful acts with transparency on social media (CHATS) Act was introduced last month by Rep. Josh Gottheimer, DN.J., and has bipartisan co-sponsors. The legislation would require the tracking and recording of crimes committed through social media.


“This new information will be a valuable tool in our fight against online crime, including cracking down on drug dealers who use social media to exploit our children,” he said in an interview.

In the Senate, the Children’s Online Safety Act, sponsored by Sens. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., would create a duty of care for social media companies that would theoretically allow them to be sued if they were found to be not sufficiently preventive harm to minors on their platforms. The bipartisan bill was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee last month.

Marc Berkman, CEO of Organization for safety in social mediaa group that helped develop the CHATS Act and Sammy’s Act, said he was hopeful about lawmakers’ renewed interest in social media crime and child protection laws.

“We are seeing more and more cases where children have been severely harmed, but also potentially millions of cases of some degree of harm in children,” he said. “So public awareness has reached a certain point where we’re finally seeing legislative action again at all levels of government.”

The legislative push follows efforts to speak directly to Snapchat.

Neville said she and other parents met with company officials in the spring of 2021. Rather than give parents the confidence that Snapchat could address their concerns, the meetings left many disillusioned, according to four parents who spoke to NBC News. Neville said the company offered quiet condolences and apologies but would not accept responsibility for its role in the death of a child.

“Leaving Snapchat alone knowing they have a problem is unacceptable to me. And unfortunately, I was a part of it, so I was like, forget it, I’m speaking out,” she said.

In a statement, a Snap Inc. spokesperson said the company’s employees are “devastated for the families who have suffered unimaginable losses” and are “working tirelessly to combat this national crisis by weeding illegal drug dealers from our platform.” “. The spokesperson said the company uses “advanced technology to proactively detect and shut down drug dealers who attempt to abuse our platform and to block search results for dangerous drug-related content.”

In June 2021 Neville, Chapman, Berman and other parents participated in protests across the country, including outside of Snapchat’s Santa Monica, California offices, urging the company to allow third-party parental monitoring software like Bark to access Snapchat chats.

Bark, which has been criticized by some privacy advocates and lawmakers, monitors content on a child’s phone and warns parents about potentially dangerous or inappropriate content, including talk about drugs, but Snapchat doesn’t allow Bark or similar apps to access its chat monitoring feature. That would change if Sammy’s law were passed, requiring major social media companies to open up to any parental monitoring software registered with the Federal Trade Commission.

According to the parents who spoke to NBC News, Snap’s response to their inquiries wasn’t sufficient to address their concerns. The parents say they turned to political activism as social media companies failed to live up to their expectations.

In addition to federal legislation, many parents have been involved in movements to create state-level social media legislation.

Matt Capelouto, a California parent whose 20-year-old daughter died after taking drugs purchased through Snapchat, has turned his attention to state legislation known as Alexandra’s Law. The law would force social media companies to include language that users acknowledge, which would make it easier to prosecute drugs if they result from a social media transaction.

“We’re all connected through fentanyl,” he said of the parenting community. “But many of us have different stories.”

Capelouto’s bill failed to make it out of the California Legislature’s committee.

Despite the proliferation of bills, not everyone is enthusiastic. Numerous technologists and politicians have raised concerns about privacy issues they say are caused by legislation and third-party surveillance applications.

Michael Karanicolas, executive director of the UCLA Institute for Technology, Law and Policy, warned that passing specific laws related to children and social media could lead to increased levels of surveillance that people may not be comfortable with.

“Anything that requires platforms to build dedicated tools or components for users under 16, by definition, requires them to do more to track the age of their younger users — which can add an extra layer of monitoring,” he said. “Regulations affecting this sector should be carefully calibrated to prevent harmful unintended consequences.”

Jesse Lehrich, co-founder of Tech Watchdog Accountable Tech, responded to a description of the bill by voicing concerns about children’s privacy. “It’s a massive invasion of privacy and children’s freedom to learn and grow,” he said. “And it creates nightmarish scenarios, like an LGBTQ kid being outed by these apps, or data being armed against a teenager who needed an abortion in a state that criminalized it.”

Similar surveillance applications used by some schools have drawn strong criticism from lawmakers such as Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

When asked about these concerns, Wasserman Schultz said, “SAMMY’s law is intended to improve parents’ ability to protect their own children from the dangers of social media, such as suicide, bullying and substance abuse. This legislation has nothing to do with third party party monitoring products in schools.” A new law would force tech companies to open up about child safety

Fry Electronics Team

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