My daughter Becca’s official cause of death is listed as an accidental drug overdose due to fentanyl poisoning. But what led her down this path, and ultimately helped end her life, was social media. I’ll explain.
At 15, Becca participated in an online party chat and met a boy who later raped her – taking a major toll on her mental health and self-esteem. The same year, she was the victim of a cyberbullying incident by her peers – a very public form of humiliation that leaves permanent scars. For Becca, these wounds never healed.
Eventually, Becca found an escape from her pain — the illicit drugs she could easily access using social media platforms. All of the support from family members, friends, her school counselor, and therapists could not compete. She was able to purchase the drugs that eventually killed her with just a few swipes on her phone. Becca died at age 18.
Sadly, my family is not alone. Far too many other families have suffered similar losses because of the harms of Big Tech, which has been running a national experiment on our kids for far too long.
For years, these tech companies, including Meta (Facebook, Instagram), Google (YouTube), TikTok, and others have refused to answer to the government or parents like me who must bury their children because of the dangerous and toxic effects of social media. We are finally at a point in which Big Tech may have to answer for its greedy and misguided actions.
The Kids Online Safety Act would put the onus on Big Tech platforms like Google, TikTok and Meta to design their products with kids in mind and protect them. We’ve seen example after example of Big Tech’s awareness of the danger of their products, even straight up lying to Congress about it, and it’s time they bear responsibility for the products they create.
Though the bill has wide, bipartisan support in Congress and sailed out of committee unanimously, standing up to Big Tech is never easy. That’s why I want to thank our Massachusetts senator, Elizabeth Warren, for cosponsoring the bill and fighting to repair a broken status quo that enables social media’s worst harms directed at our children.
Input from child advocates like Fairplay and community stakeholders, including LGBTQ+ groups, has strengthened the bill to ensure that all kids can be safe online. The updated bill boasts support from a range of mental health, pediatric, and children’s safety experts – including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association.
Social media companies have known about the dangers on their platforms for many years, but they have decided to prioritize profits over kids’ safety. We can no longer stand by silently as our youth become collateral damage to Big Tech’s greed. It’s time for parents to stand together – and to demand that Congress pass theKids Online Safety Act. The tech companies spend millions of dollars on lobbyists to influence our politicians and avoid regulation. It is imperative that we don’t let their voices be the only ones our senators are hearing.
Each day this legislation is not passed is another opportunity for a cyberbully to push a vulnerable child to suicide, for a child’s attempt at an online prank to turn fatal, and for a teen who is feeling stressed to go online and purchase a counterfeit pill containing fentanyl.
Big Tech has hardly ever given us reason to believe it will hold itself accountable. For years they’ve been making business and design decisions that put profit over kids’ and teens’ wellbeing. We finally have a chance to stop them and create a safer, healthier digital world for young people.
All citizens should call their representatives and ask them to vote the bill into law. Call U.S. Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121- all you need is your zip code.
Deb Schmill is founder and president of the Becca Schmill Foundation.