Editorial Roundup: Illinois

Chicago Sun-Times. March 18, 2024.

Editorial: Here’s a step lawmakers can take to protect children from online abuse

Third-party software can help parents and guardians intervene if their children are victims of cyberbullying or other online harm. But not all social media companies have agreed to cooperate to provide access.

The unending social media barrage of cyberbullying, hate speech, sextortion and other dangerous actions harms countless children and young teens and — in some cases — can trigger suicides.

Some parents try to protect their children by using spyware, duplicating their children’s social media accounts, capturing keystrokes on their kids’ devices or keeping their kids offline, but such efforts are intrusive and impractical.

There’s a better way to keep children safe that Congress should consider or, if Congress remains the largely ineffective body it has been lately, the Illinois General Assembly should pursue.

Third-party software is available that sends parents or guardians an alert if a child talks online about committing suicide, gets cyberbullied, orders illegal drugs or is engaged in other risky behavior. That gives parents a chance to stage interventions. The software is less intrusive than trying to read all social media posts by a young person, and it’s more effective.

Rose Bronstein, who together with her husband Rob founded Buckets Over Bullying, a nonprofit for cyberbullying prevention, after their son hanged himself in 2021 after cyberbullying at a Chicago school, likens the third-party apps to placing a seat belt on a child. Bronstein said her son gathered information about hanging online, which, if the software had been in place, would have triggered an alert sent to her and her husband.

For the software to work, however, big social media companies have to cooperate. If they don’t, it would be like trying to use Quicken to update personal account data when the bank and credit card companies refuse access.

Some big social media companies, such as Google, Reddit, Facebook and YouTube, cooperate to some degree, child safety activists say, but other companies, such as Snapchat and TikTok, don’t.

“There is still not real public understanding of how severe and pervasive the harms are that we are seeing out there, that are caused by or exacerbated by social media use,” said Marc Berkman, CEO of the Organization for Social Media Safety. “We are seeing a lot of hurt children, including deaths.”

A U.S. House bill that in part would require big social media and video-sharing platforms to cooperate was introduced in September, but it has been sitting in the Subcommittee on Innovation, Data, and Commerce. The congressional bill is nicknamed Sammy’s Law after Sammy Chapman, 16, who died in 2021 after a drug dealer connected with him on Snapchat and offered a drug that, unknown to Chapman, turned out to contain a fatal dose of fentanyl.

In Illinois, state Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz, D-Glenview, introduced a similar bill, the Let Parents Choose Protection Act, on Feb. 28. A hearing on the bill is scheduled for Wednesday. The bill is backed by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul.

Trying to protect children this way must be done carefully to avoid a slippery slope that leads to an invasion of privacy. Kids ought to be able to discuss sensitive issues such as reproductive rights or even parental abuse with each other without adults hovering over every word.

A law passed in Utah, for example, would require social media companies to give parents or guardians full access to their children’s accounts, which would lead to intrusive surveillance. The law, which originally was to take effect March 1, has been put on hold until Oct. 1 to allow for more discussion of its implications. Other bills have been introduced in states across the country.

Apps and online sites need access to such things as passwords to successfully monitor social media accounts. The risk is that third-party companies will gather and store too much information, making all that data susceptible to hacking and getting into the wrong hands. Companies might state in their terms and conditions that they will collect only the necessary information and not share it, but terms and conditions can always change.

Kids’ personal online activity should not be piling up in yet one more place, where anyone from hackers to law enforcement might gain access to it. Any law should ensure children are protected, not put at risk.

But just because it’s a challenge to get things right doesn’t mean lawmakers should throw up their hands and let rampant online abuse go unchecked. The Organization for Social Media Safety says alerts sent to adults have prevented at least 16 school shootings.

Social media postings, online searches and other user information are shared in all kinds of ways — including to make money for the companies that operate the apps and websites — with no guarantee the information won’t be shared in unexpected ways. Parents and guardians should at least be warned if their young charges are at risk.


Chicago Tribune. March 14, 2024.

Editorial: Ed Burke remains a licensed attorney. No, that’s not a joke.

Ed Burke, Esquire.

The disgraced former aldermanic powerhouse retains his law license despite his conviction on multiple felony counts tied to using his public position to pressure those needing various city approvals to employ his law firm on property tax appeals. As first reported by WBEZ and the Chicago Sun-Times, an effort by the state’s Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission to yank Burke’s law license foundered when the Illinois Supreme Court deemed itself unable to rule on the matter.

Too many justices on the state’s high court asserted conflicts of interest and thus couldn’t act, according to the report. So Citizen Burke remains available for legal services, theoretically at least.

Burke’s attorney told the newspaper he no longer even wants his law license, so arguably this is moot. But the optics are terrible all the same.

That at least four of the seven Supreme Court justices felt too compromised to act on something so basic underscores just how cartoonishly corrupt this city’s and state’s politics have been for eons. Did some or all of them beg off because they felt they owed their current positions at least in part to Burke? We don’t know because they don’t have to say.

It’s not much of a stretch to wonder, though. Burke, merely a Chicago alderman for the five-plus decades until leaving the City Council last year, wielded power far beyond his elected position and had an outsize influence over whom the Democratic Party slated for judges or backed in judicial elections.

Burke is a free man for now while awaiting sentencing. Meanwhile, Chicagoans have to come to terms with the state’s apparent inability to do something so simple as barring this convicted felon from practicing law here.

You could argue it’s funny in a black-comedy, Royko-esque way.

But we don’t think we’re alone in feeling more than done with the (long) era when Chicagoans would roll their eyes and crack wise about the “city that works.” Good — or at least honest — government is something we all deserve from our representatives.

And our judges too.