‘Kids Online Safety Act’ will ‘protect’ children from trans content, senator Marsha Blackburn admits

Tennessee senator Marsha Blackburn wears a beige blazer and pink top

A Republican senator has admitted the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) which is currently being passed through Congress could target trans content. 

Tennessee senator Marsha Blackburn, lead sponsor of KOSA, has stated the bill, which aims to curb “compulsive” internet usage in minors and restrict certain website functions for children, will also impact LGBTQ+ content. 

In a short interview published on Saturday (2 September), Blackburn stated that “protecting minor children from the transgender in our culture” was the priority for Conservatives in America.

She added that children are being “indoctrinated” on social media, and that the bill would help to protect children from being “exposed to things that they are emotionally not mature enough to handle”.

Jamie Susskind, legislative director for Blackburn, has refuted the reports, stating: “KOSA will not — nor was it designed to — target or censor any individual or community.”

The bill – endorsed by president Joe Biden – aims to put in place valuable protections for children online, including limiting adverts for tobacco and gambling. However, LGBTQ+ advocates, including LGBTQ+ reporter Erin Reed, have raised concerns about potential censorship and increased parental controls. 

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First introduced in February 2022, KOSA received widespread criticism over its aim to limit children’s access to online content. Several opponents to the bill explained it could lead platforms to over-moderate and censor content on LGBTQ+ issues, drug addiction and help for eating disorders and other mental health issues.

Several LGBTQ+ organisations, including GLAAD, GLSEN and PFLAG, wrote a letter to senators in 2022 opposing KOSA, claiming while some aspects of the bill are “laudable”, it could have negative impacts on LGBTQ+ children. 

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“While KOSA’s aims of preventing harassment, exploitation, and mental health trauma for minors are laudable, the legislation is unfortunately likely to have damaging unintended consequences for young people,” it stated.

“At a time when books with LGBTQ+ themes are being banned from school libraries and people providing healthcare to trans children are being falsely accused of ‘grooming’, KOSA would cut off another vital avenue of access to information for vulnerable youth.”

KOSA was amended and reintroduced in May 2023, with the bill now boasting wide bipartisan backing, with 43 co-sponsors including 21 Democratic senators. It was reported that some large LGBTQ+ organisations such as GLAAD, have now dropped their opposition to the bill

However experts have claimed the risk for LGBTQ+ communities is still present in the bill, with some KOSA supporters, including right-wing think-tank Heritage Foundation, openly admitting the bill will be used to censor LGBTQ+ content online.

In a report for ARSTechnica, ACLU’s senior policy counsel Cody Venzke claimed he believes there is still a risk children will be cut off from valuable resources if KOSA is passed. 

“Platforms are going to end up taking down the bad as well as the good, because content moderation is biased,” Venzke told the publication. 

“And it doesn’t do youths any good to know that they can still search for helpful resources, but those helpful resources supported have been swept up in the broad takedowns of content.”

Venzke added that if “politically challenging topics” like gun control or LGBTQ+ rights are limited for young people online it restricts children’s “opportunity to participate” in debates on topics that impact their lives.

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Republican Marsha Blackburn has previously been slammed for her anti-LGBTQ+ views, with Taylor Swift calling her “Trump in a wig” in 2020

The senator, who is reportedly against same-sex marriage and believes businesses have a right to refuse service to LGBTQ+ couples, was slammed by Swift in her documentary Miss Americana.

“She represents no female interests,” Swift added. “She won by being a female applying to the kind of female males want us to be in a horrendous 1950s world.”

Taylor Swift also denounced Blackburn ahead of the midterm elections in 2018, writing on Instagram: “She voted against equal pay for women. She voted against the reauthorisation of the Violence Against Women Act, which attempts to protect women from domestic violence, stalking, and date rape.

“She believes businesses have a right to refuse service to gay couples. She also believes they should not have the right to marry.

“These are not MY Tennessee values.”

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