Lawmaker Says the “Kids Online Safety Act” Aims to Protect Kids from “The Transgender”

In an interview recently posted online, Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) seems to have confirmed that the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) will do just what digital rights and LGBTQ+ advocates have been warning it could do: censor trans content online.

Advocates have been sounding the alarm about KOSA since its introduction by co-sponsors Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Senator Blackburn in 2022. The bill’s proponents claim that it will protect children from harm on social media, which is certainly a worthwhile goal on its face. But many advocacy groups have been criticizing KOSA for the ways that it would undermine internet privacy and potentially censor content by and for marginalized communities. This fear seems to be astute, considering what Senator Blackburn said in an interview earlier this year with a reporter from the right-wing, anti-trans organization Family Policy Alliance.

Asked what conservatives’ top priorities should be right now, Senator Blackburn answered, “protecting minor children from the transgender [sic] in this culture and that influence.” She then talked about how KOSA could address this problem, and named social media platforms as places “where children are being indoctrinated.”

She went on, “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,” Blackburn said. “They’re on Snapchat or they’re on Instagram and the next thing they know they’re being inundated with it.”

Although Blackburn did not specify what she was referring to when she said children were being “inundated,” she was likely referring to the idea of “social contagion.” This thoroughly debunked idea, which is a favorite talking point of right-wing anti-trans activists and influencers, is that children are, en masse, being persuaded into identifying as transgender after encountering trans content on the internet.

Blackburn’s statement is a vindication of the myriad warnings that digital rights advocates have been issuing for months: While the bill ostensibly aims to hold platforms responsible for preventing and mitigating any potential harm that could come to minors who interact with various kinds of content online, what constitutes harm would be left up to Attorneys General — the same officials like those who have blocked access to medical care for trans youth in states like Texas and Missouri.

As a 2022 statement from digital rights group Fight for the Future points out, under KOSA, online services would face “substantial pressure to over-moderate, including from state Attorneys General seeking to make political points” about what content is appropriate. This over moderation could include blocking access to content that promotes “sexual exploitation,” self-harm, suicide, and “other matters that pose a risk to physical and mental health of a minor.” At a moment when books that discuss LGBTQ+ identities and anti-racism are being banned and trans kids are being demonized and denied access to care, vulnerable young people shouldn’t be denied access to what might be one of the few avenues they have to information.

She also came under fire for booking a trans magician to perform at the library.

Despite this, KOSA enjoys bipartisan support, including a July endorsement from President Joe Biden. And although multiple LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations initially signed onto a 2022 letter opposing the bill, as Vice reported, LGBTQ organizations like GLAAD and HRC have since dropped their opposition.

As the Advocate reported last month, supporters of KOSA include a “who’s who of anti-LGBTQ+ organizations.” But the ACLU, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Fight for the Future continue to fight against the bill’s passage.

“Members of Congress aren’t qualified to tell people what to read — kids or adults, online or offline,” writes Joe Mullin, policy analyst at Electronic Frontier Foundation. “We wouldn’t let attorneys general remove books from a school library because they could be depressing or promote substance abuse. We shouldn’t let them have such censorial power over the internet, either.”

Update: In a statement sent to Them after this piece was published, a spokesperson from Senator Blackburn's office wrote, “These are two separate issues being taken out of context. KOSA will not — nor was it designed to — target or censor any individual or community.”

Get the best of what’s queer. Sign up for Them’s weekly newsletter here.

Originally Appeared on them.