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KOSA: what it is, and why policymakers should be cautious

Teenagers are spending more time online than ever before, raising concerns among parents and lawmakers. As a parent of teenagers myself, I know policies aimed at giving parents better tools to oversee their kids’ online activity should be a top priority for Congress.

However, many of the proposals being floated fail to find the right balance between protecting kids and establishing government overreach into Americans’ home lives. The Kids Online Safety Act, for example, would give the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) near total control to decide what online content is considered harmful to kids.

Known in policy circles as KOSA, the Kids Online Safety Act is a bipartisan bill that was first introduced in Congress in 2022. The bill is meant to protect America’s youth from online predators and age-inappropriate content. In its original form, the legislation gave state attorneys general full enforcement power, which would have smartly allowed for a localized implementation. However, this approach raised concerns with progressive groups who worried about placing the power in the hands of Republican AGs.

To win over more Democrats' support for the legislation, the bill authors changed the policy so that the FTC would have full enforcement control. This change successfully appeased Democratic lawmakers since the FTC – run by Biden appointee Lina Khan – is aligned with their views on what content is appropriate for children.

However, this change should raise alarm bells for any American who believes in limited government since it drastically expands the FTC's power and gives Washington bureaucrats strong influence over what our children see online.

KOSA’s primary objective is blocking online content that is harmful to children – including content that may cause anxiety or depression. While well-intentioned, the bill defines ‘harmful content’ vaguely, leaving a lot of room for interpretation for whoever is enforcing the legislation – in this case, the FTC. Giving this kind of blank check power to a large federal agency opens the door for government censorship since it will be up to their discretion to determine what content is allowed.

FTC Chair Lina Kahn

This is especially concerning given recent concerns that have arisen about Lina Khan, who has faced accusations from her own staff that she’s using the FTC's power to advance her political agenda. A House Judiciary Committee investigation exposed widespread criticism from FTC staff about Chair Khan’s leadership and priorities. One employee went so far as to say that Lina Khan consistently made decisions based on what would make a good headline instead of what’s best for the American people.

By giving the FTC so much oversight power, KOSA opens the door to government censorship online, allowing Washington bureaucrats to determine what content is deemed harmful. Instead of this approach, the government should empower parents to be the ones who decide how their children interact online. There are better policy proposals that would put parents – not the government in the driver's seat.

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