Parents Gather in Washington, DC to Support McCourt-led People’s Bid for TikTok

Leaders of parents’ groups from across the country share their personal experiences with the harmful impact of Big Tech on children and why they believe in Frank McCourt and Project Liberty’s vision for TikTok

WASHINGTON, June 6, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — A group of parents advocating for youth safety online joined Frank McCourt, Founder of Project Liberty, today, to discuss the role that social media played in the loss of their children, the resulting impact on their families and the actions they’ve taken to drive real change in the aftermath – as well as their support of McCourt and Project Liberty’s recently announced bid to acquire TikTok.

Through the establishment of Project Liberty, a global initiative to give people back control of their lives in the digital age by ensuring they have a voice, choice, and stake in a better internet – McCourt has invested in the creation of new, alternative technologies designed to give people power over their digital footprint. In May 2024, McCourt announced that Project Liberty is building a consortium to purchase TikTok and re-architect the platform to give people back their identities and web experiences. The current social media model has been driven by Big Tech’s destructive “move fast and break things” ethos, evidenced by the experiences of the parents in attendance, who are intimately familiar with the harm caused by the relentless pursuit of growth and profits by these platforms.

Maurine Molak of San Antonio, Texas (Co-Founder of David’s Legacy Foundation), Sam Chapman of Santa Monica, California (CEO of Parent Collective), Deb Schmill of Needham, Massachusetts (Founder and President of the Becca Schmill Foundation) and Joann Bogard of Evansville, Indiana (Parent Advocate for Social Media Reform), sat down to discuss how the flawed design of today’s social media platforms contributed to their personal tragedies and why they believe McCourt and Project Liberty’s vision for TikTok, will drive a necessary transformation of our digital landscape to ensure a better future for our children.     

McCourt, who has spent the last five years not only shining a light on Big Tech’s exploitative practices but also bringing forward real solutions, joined parents as they shared their stories. Sam Chapman, whose son Sammy passed away from a fentanyl overdose after obtaining drugs through a social media platform, commented, “Social media platforms are the new public square. As such, we need them to be safe for children and free from hostile foreign influence.”

Today’s event is part of a long-term public awareness effort to ensure that Americans understand the damage occurring online, are equipped to protect themselves and their families, and fight for authentic change.

“As the parent of a child who was victimized through social media, I fully support Frank McCourt’s and Project Liberty’s vision for TikTok,” said Deb Schmill, mother of Becca. “It is time for a next-generation Internet that does not subject children to exploitation but instead prioritizes their well-being and that of our society.”

“The current Big Tech business model puts profits before the safety of young people. This is not a fair fight and parents are pleading to regain control of their children’s online safety and well-being,” said Maurine Molak, mother of David. “As a parent who has experienced the exploitative nature of Big Tech’s business model, I am in this fight with Frank McCourt to build a better and safer internet through the purchase of TikTok.”

“After losing our son to a social media harm, we realized that this issue was not isolated to our family. Parents are begging for change. And Frank McCourt is bringing something new to the table-–an opportunity for a better social media platform. One that will allow children to have a safe social media experience and be in control of their personal data,” said Joann Bogard, mother of Mason. “The People’s Bid for TikTok will disallow Big Tech’s current ability to exploit and monetize their time and data. This new type of social media is a welcome change and I fully support it.”

“I’m honored to have the support of these parents,” said McCourt. “They have experienced the worst of what the internet can do to families and children. Our effort is designed to seize power from Big Tech, which is focused solely on profit at any cost, and restore it to the people who create its value. Our hope is that by doing so, we can eliminate the kinds of tragedies that are inflicted on children and families every day by the current model.”

About the parents and their children:

Sam Chapman from Santa Monica, California:
Our son Sammy was an amazing kid — sweet, funny, curious, and an A-student. We worked hard to keep him away from dangerous people and places. But, like most parents, we had no idea that drug dealers were preying on children using Snapchat and other social media platforms. And we had no idea illegal, untested drugs could be delivered to our house as easily as a pizza.

On February 7, 2021, a drug dealer reached out to our son Sammy on Snapchat and delivered drugs to him at home. He snuck out after we were asleep to meet the dealer, who gave him what turned out to be a lethal dose of fentanyl. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid twice as addictive as heroin, 100 times more powerful than morphine — and fatal even in microscopic doses. Sammy had no idea he was taking it. As a result, Sammy lost his life.

Deb Schmill from Needham, Massachusetts:
My daughter Becca was kind, loving, funny and adventurous. Her hugs would melt away the stress from the day and her mischievous smile made me laugh, knowing she was up to something. I adored my daughter. The fact that I will not see her grow up is devastating. The fact that her death was preventable is unbearable.

At 15, Becca and her friends virtually met a group of 18-year-old boys on a party chat. Two weeks later the group met in person and one of the boys raped Becca. A humiliating cyberbullying incident followed the rape. The two traumas left my previously happy child feeling empty inside. She eventually turned to drugs to fill that emptiness. With the help of social media, Becca was able to find illicit drugs anytime, anywhere. At 18, she was sold drugs laced with fentanyl.

The rape, the cyberbullying, and the easy access to drugs were all preventable if not for unregulated social media platforms that place profits over children’s safety.

Joann Bogard from Evansville, Indiana:
Our youngest son Mason loved everything about the outdoors. He was adventurous and enjoyed camping, hiking and fishing. He would watch how-to videos on YouTube to learn how to make a better fishing lure and master his woodworking skills. He was generous, smart, and entertained us with his witty humor. He had just started his first job, was excited to start driving, and planned to join the Army after graduation. He was living a healthy and well-balanced lifestyle.

I was the parent who had all of the protections in place, checked his devices regularly, and had the hard conversations about being safe online. But that wasn’t enough to protect him from the unsolicited, harmful content that was fed to him through algorithms. At the young age of 15, Mason recorded himself trying the viral social media trend called the “choking challenge”. This social media challenge cost him his life. Our family will forever grieve the loss of Mason.

Maurine Molak from San Antonio, Texas:
My 16-year-old son David died by suicide eight years ago after a year long struggle with social media and online gaming addiction.  While we were seeking help for the addiction he became the target of relentless cyberbullying where he was threatened and tormented for months before he completely lost all hope.

David had recently achieved the prestigious rank of Eagle Scout and was an avid fisherman and loved hunting with his dad. David was a good friend to many and genuinely cared for others.  His kind heart made him a soft target for the cruelty that lived online.

ABOUT PROJECT LIBERTY

Project Liberty is leading the movement to give people back control of their lives in the digital age by ensuring they have a voice, choice, and stake in a better internet. Launched in 2021 by civic entrepreneur Frank McCourt and supported by a $500-million commitment, Project Liberty encompasses the work of the Project Liberty Institute—a 501(c)(3) with an international partner network that includes Georgetown University, Stanford University, Sciences Po, and other leading academic institutions and civic organizations—and a technological team that is focused on developing the next generation of digital infrastructure. Project Liberty’s activities include the release of the Decentralized Social Networking Protocol (DSNP), which is stewarded by the Institute and available as a public utility to serve as the bedrock of a more equitable web and support a new era of innovation that empowers people over platforms and serves the common good.

SOURCE Project Liberty

Originally published at https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/parents-gather-in-washington-dc-to-support-mccourt-led-peoples-bid-for-tiktok-302166178.html
Images courtesy of https://pixabay.com

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