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Children's advocates applaud Kids Online Safety Act

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Kathryn Carley

(Commonwealth New Service) Federal legislation aimed at protecting children and teens online has gained the support of leading advocates for children's health and privacy.

The Kids Online Safety Act would make online platforms and digital providers abide by a "duty of care" requiring them to eliminate or mitigate the impact of harmful content.

Kris Perry, executive director of Children and Screens, the Institute of Digital Media and Child Development, said parents would have more tools to control how their children interact with the platforms. 

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"Limit screen time, or limit autoplay, or limit the endless scrolls so that the products become safer for their children," Perry recommended.

Perry pointed out researchers believe if the negative features can be reduced, the troubling trend of adolescents comparing their lives to others could decline, while allowing for greater social connections to be made. Some critics of the bill have said it could pressure platforms to "over-moderate," as various states deliberate what kinds of material are considered appropriate for children.

Studies show a growing epidemic of depression and sadness among children and teens is connected to social media use.

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Perry noted the bill requires online platforms to grant academic institutions access to their data sets, which will help researchers better understand the effects of social media on child development. 

"So that we can understand the nuances of timing and context and content, which is very different than just knowing how many hours a child spent online," Perry explained.

Perry added children and teens deserve a safe online environment. President Joe Biden and members of Congress have said online protections are a priority. More than 25 lawmakers have signed onto the bill so far.