On the eve of Wednesday’s big tech hearing (both big tech and a big hearing — five CEOs are testifying as we speak), Microsoft stepped up to back a controversial bill that aims to protect children from the dangers of social media. In the early hours of the hearing, X CEO Linda Yaccarino also climbed aboard.
Yaccarino answered an unequivocal “yes” when asked if X, formerly Twitter, will support the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA). The question came when KOSA co-sponsor Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) went down the line of tech CEOs asking if each company would back his legislation.
Snap’s Evan Spiegel also answered “yes,” restating his company’s previous commitment to supporting the new proposal to regulate social media apps. Meta, Discord and TikTok all demurred, pointing to groups that have criticized the bill or stating that they support some of its parts and not others.
In spite of some revisions, the bill’s many critics have warned that KOSA would dangerously sanitize the internet, empower censorship and isolate young LGBTQ people in the process. Security, privacy and free press advocates have also called attention to the bill’s potential threat to encryption. The bill was revised last year in response to some criticisms, but many concerns persist.
While X and Snap are popular social apps, they’re on the fringe compared to the heft of a company like Microsoft. Microsoft, now worth roughly three trillion dollars, is currently the most valuable company in the world and a sophisticated operator in the world of policy that’s been around long enough to know how to play the game.
While X and Snap are likely hoping that their KOSA support will either generally endear them to regulators or have a much worse impact on rival companies, Microsoft probably has its sights on a different issue entirely. Unlike its peers testifying on Capitol Hill, Microsoft doesn’t own a traditional social media network steered by algorithms (Discord is also a notable exception here). For Microsoft, AI is the name of the game — and throwing support behind a bill that will change the rules for social media companies might buy it some regulatory goodwill where it counts.