Indiana Capital Chronicle: Indiana gubernatorial hopeful Brad Chambers emphasizes online safety for kids in first proposal

By Casey Smith
Indiana Capital Chronicle

Indiana gubernatorial contender Brad Chambers released his first policy proposal Wednesday with an emphasis on increasing online safety for Hoosier children.

Chambers, who is vying for the 2024 Republican nomination for Indiana governor, said he wants to require stricter age verification, enhance online data protections and ensure age-appropriate classroom instruction “on the benefits and dangers of social media and other online activity,” among other proposals.

“Today’s online environment is an increasingly dangerous place,” Chambers said in a statement. “Its harmful effects are real and well-documented, yet career politicians have failed to act as Big Tech prioritizes monetization of Hoosier children over their safety, privacy and well-being.”

“As governor, I’ll work collaboratively with the Legislature to implement this plan and give Hoosier parents the tools they need to keep their children safe online,” he continued.

Chambers’ “Safe Online Plan” is highlighted in his latest six-figure ad buy that will begin airing on television statewide as early as Wednesday, according to a campaign news release.

The announcement came one day after the state attorney general’s office sued Meta in federal and state courts, alleging the company knowingly designed and deployed harmful features on Instagram and its other social media platforms that purposefully addict children and teens.

Specifically, the plan seeks to require stricter age verification for the use of digital platforms such as social media, as well as websites that distribute or display pornographic material.

Chambers said he would do so by consulting with online industry experts and the state legislature “to determine the most reliable age verification system to ensure children are protected and parents are empowered to manage and monitor the online presence of their minor children.”

Although age 13 is generally the required minimum age for access to social media platforms, Chambers pointed to recent studies indicating that roughly 40% of the nation’s youth between the ages of eight and 12 report using social media.

“Currently, social media, gaming platforms and websites that distribute or display pornographic material simply require users to check a box or fill in a birth date with no way to verify and confirm the user’s age,” Chambers’ plan says.

The candidate also proposed a “multi-pronged approach” to enhance and expand online data protections for Hoosier users under the age of 18.

The “Safe Online” plan would limit geolocation tracking for verified youth social media accounts only to applications that allow parents or guardians to know the location of their children.

To prevent cyberstalking and cyberbullies, it also requires verified youth social media accounts to be automatically set to “private” mode so unknown users cannot view a child’s social media activity.

Companies found in violation of the Safe Online plan’s data protection provisions would be subject to penalties.

Chambers is also seeking to enforce penalties on online companies that fail to prevent Hoosier children from accessing pornographic material and other inappropriate adult content online.

He further promised to work with the Indiana Department of Education to ensure “age-appropriate” classroom instruction on the dangers of social media and other online activity.