As state and national lawmakers reckon with the impact of social media on teens, Sen. Mitt Romney has co-sponsored a bill aimed at protecting children from online harm.

The Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) is a bipartisan piece of legislation shepherded by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. The bill would require social media platforms to give children the option to protect their data and disable features like personalized algorithmic recommendations. Children would be able to limit other design features like infinite scrolling, autoplay and notifications.

It would also give parents controls on social media platforms to help protect their children. It would mandate that these platforms mitigate harms to minors like preventing the promotion of content around eating disorders and suicide.

At a hearing of social media CEOs before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Evan Spiegel, CEO of Snap and Linda Yaccarino, CEO of X, said that they would support KOSA. The tense hearing drew increased national attention to the issue of whether or not the government should regulate social media companies more to prevent alleged harm to children.

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“Social media is making our young people more vulnerable to cyberbullying, addiction and long-term mental health challenges,” Romney said. “Large tech companies have failed to institute measures to adequately protect children and teenagers from these hazards, and we have little indication that things will change without legislative action.”

“I’m proud to join a majority of my colleagues in co-sponsoring this legislation which would require social media companies to equip parents and their children with the necessary tools to keep themselves safe online,” Romney continued in the release.

A 2022 study of 1,480 teens between 13 and 17 years old found that nearly 50% of respondents said going on social media can make them feel sad or depressed. Half of teens said going on social media can make them feel lonely or isolated. On the flip side, the majority of teens also said that social media makes them socially connected.

Researcher Zach Rausch found that since 2010, depression in girls has risen 145% and has increased by 161% in boys — he tracked the rising mental health crisis among different countries and found that depression and anxiety has increased particularly for girls. “At this point, there is only one theory we know of that can explain why the same thing happened to girls in so many countries at the same time: the rapid global movement from flip phones (where you can’t do social media) to smartphones and the phone-based childhood,” Rausch wrote.

The majority of U.S. teens also said they’ve experienced some form of cyberbullying, according to a Pew Research Center survey. 79% of teens said elected officials were doing a fair or poor job of addressing online harassment.

A 2019 study published in The Lancet of 10,904 adolescents determined that social media usage may be associated with low self-esteem and poor body image — in turn, this may contribute to depressive symptoms. “Our findings add weight to the growing evidence base on the potential pitfalls associated with lengthy time spent engaging on social media,” researchers wrote, explaining the findings were relevant to “calls on industry to more tightly regulate hours of social media use for young people.”

“Young people today are facing a national epidemic of depression, anxiety, and loneliness — and unchecked social media companies are robbing them of their social skills and human relationships,” Kerry Healey, former lieutenant governor of Massachusetts and co-chair of Issue One’s Council for Responsible Social Media, said. “These platforms have designed their products to maximize profit without regard to the impact, and they do so by exploiting our children’s anxieties and keeping their attention longer. KOSA directly addresses the harmful social media business model by placing the health and well-being of our children over advertising revenue.”

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Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, who has made protecting children from the potential harms of social media a priority, praised Romney. “We want to empower parents so they can better protect their children from the harms of social media and this legislation does that. We appreciate Sen. Romney’s leadership in this important policy area.”

While the Kids Online Safety Act is backed by hundreds of national, state and local organizations including the American Psychological Association, the Center for Digital Democracy and the Center for Discovery Eating Disorders Treatment, some industry groups have opposed it.

Joe Mullin, senior policy analyst at Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the bill has “fundamental flaws” especially around speech. “The bill still effectively regulates the entire internet that isn’t age-gated,” Mullin wrote. “KOSA is fundamentally a censorship bill, so we’re concerned about its effects on any website or serve — whether they’re meant to serve solely adults, solely kids, or both.”

Proponents of the bill see it as necessary to help protect children.

Two-hundred thirteen groups supporting the bill wrote in a joint letter, “The Kids Online Safety Act seeks to hold social media companies accountable after their repeated failures to protect children and adolescents from the practices that make their platforms more harmful.” These groups said the evidence that social media can potentially harm mental health was clear.

“The lack of transparency into the inner workings, policies and measured impacts of these platforms must be addressed now.”