Did this Senator just admit her Internet safety act could ban kids from seeing trans content?

Senator Marsha Blackburn, transgender, woman, definition
Sen. Marsha Blackburn Photo: Shutterstock

LGBTQ+ advocates have long feared that a federal bill purporting to protect kids online could be used to block their access to LGBTQ+ resources – and now the bill’s lead co-sponsor seems to have confirmed it.

Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn (R) recently spoke with the conservative Christian organization Family Policy Alliance and was asked about the top issue conservatives should be focusing on right now. Blackburn responded by saying that one major priority should be “protecting minor children “from the transgender [sic] in this culture and that influence.”

“I would add, too, that watching what’s happening on social media,” she continued, bringing up how the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), would “put a duty of care and responsibility on the social media platforms.”

“This is where children are being indoctrinated,” Blackburn claimed. “They’re hearing things at school and then they’re getting onto YouTube to watch a video and all of a sudden this comes to them…They click on something and then the next thing you know they’re being inundated with it.” It’s not entirely clear what “it” is referring to, but considering she had mentioned trans issues mere seconds before, it stands to reason the two thoughts were connected.

Blackburn’s legislative director, Jamie Susskind, claimed on X, formerly known as Twitter, that Blackburn’s comments are being misinterpreted and that her points about trans issues and about KOSA were not related to one another.

KOSA has found widespread bipartisan support – including an emphatic endorsement from President Biden – but it has stirred anger among LGBTQ+ activists who believe Republicans will use it to prevent kids from seeing LGBTQ+ content. An earlier version of the bill used vague language directing social media companies to monitor and mitigate “harms” their platforms could cause to youth. Activists argued that Republican leaders could misconstrue that language to define harm as anything related to LGBTQ+ identities.

The bill has been reintroduced with amendments meant to account for those concerns — naming, for example, specific harms the companies should mitigate against (like suicidal behaviors, eating disorders, substance use, sexual exploitation, and ads for tobacco and alcohol) and clarifying what does not count as harmful. But some are still not convinced the bill goes far enough to keep LGBTQ+ youth safe.

The ACLU has also voiced its continued opposition to the bill, saying it would “ironically expose the very children it seeks to protect to increased harm and increased surveillance.”

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