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Parents lobby Congress for new social media rules

Despite keeping a close eye on their daughter's online activity, a family learned she was subjected to online peer pressure.
Posted at 11:35 AM, Dec 22, 2023

Brandy and Toney Roberts have eight kids, but Englyn was the only one who grew up in the social media age. She started using social media around age 11, but her parents kept a close eye on her online activity.

"We knew her unlock code. We knew her passwords to things, so we really were not concerned about anything because we were seeing what was being posted by her," father Toney Roberts said.

Englyn's mom Brandy recalled, "She liked the glam. She liked, you know, I gotta take a picture because I have this new outfit. I have this new hairdo. I got to show my nails."

But it wasn't until after tragedy struck that Brandy and Toney learned about the peer pressure and sadness their daughter experienced online. One night in August 2020, Brandy got a message from another friend's mom asking if they had checked on Englyn. They discovered Englyn had attempted to take her own life.

She was rushed to the hospital but died nine days later. In the aftermath, her parents looked through Englyn's cellphone and were shocked at what they found.

"A video was sent to her, and it was exactly what she did that night — a lady pretending to hang herself using an extension cord tied around the edge of the door," her dad recalled.

Now they want Congress to take action to help prevent this from happening to other families.

The Kids Online Safety Act, cosponsored by the bipartisan duo of Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Richard Blumenthal, would require tech companies to minimize the harm from addictive features, set stronger protections by default, and create new tools for parents to report harmful content.

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The bill aims to minimize the spread of sensitive content, like posts featuring suicide, anorexia and other mental health disorders. It would require social media companies to allow third-party independent audits and to issue an annual report detailing protection measures and their effectiveness. Blackburn and Blumenthal introduced a similar bill last Congress, but it never got a vote on the Senate floor.

The CEOs of Meta, X, TikTok, Snap and Discord are scheduled to testify next month before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Roberts family will be watching and hoping for more accountability as the couple mourns their daughter during a difficult time of year.

"We didn't put up a normal tree; we put up a tree in honor of Englyn," Toney started with Brandy finishing his sentence. 

They got the idea for an Angel Tree from another family who'd lost a child. 

"So Englyn loved butterflies ... so the whole tree is a white tree with nothing but butterflies, butterflies and lights," Brandy explained.

The Kids Online Safety Act got bipartisan approval in the Senate Commerce Committee, and it's awaiting a vote on the Senate floor.

If you need to talk to someone, call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988 or text "HOME" to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.