Big Tech CEOs Grilled At Senate Hearing On Child Exploitation
On Wednesday, Congress held a hearing titled, “Big Tech and the Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis.”
The hearing was called to “examine and investigate the plague of online child sexual exploitation,” according to a statement released by the U.S Senate Judiciary Committee.
CEOs from the big five social media companies – Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Evan Spiegel of Snapchat, Linda Yaccarino of X (formerly Twitter), Shou Zi Chew of TikTok and Jason Citron of Discord – were all in attendance.
Also in attendance were families who said their children had been harmed by social media. The online sale of illegal drugs, child exploitation, bullying, unrealistic beauty standards and teen suicide were all issues discussed at the meeting.
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In his opening statement, Zuckerberg declared, “The existing body of scientific work has not shown a causal link between using social media and young people having worse mental health.”
The statement would later draw derision from Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri).
When Hawley asked if Zuckerberg would like to apologize to the families, however, Zuckerberg turned his mic away from the senators and directly addressed the families.
“I am sorry for everything you all have been through,” Zuckerberg said as parents held up pictures of their children harmed by social media. “No one should have to go through the things that your family has suffered. And this is why we invest so much and we are going to continue to do industry-wide efforts to make sure no one has to go through what you and your families have suffered.”
This was a theme throughout the hearing from the CEOs. Heartfelt apologies, followed by insistences that they are doing everything they can to protect children on their platforms.
Snap CEO Evan Spiegel, who is currently being sued by the parents of over 60 teenagers who used the app Snapchat to access illegal drugs that resulted in overdoses, said, “I’m so sorry that we were not able to prevent these tragedies. We work very hard to block all search terms related to drugs on our platform.”
Senators from both sides agree that platitudes from the CEOs are no longer enough.
Sen Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) said, after recounting stories of children harmed due to the influence of social media, “I’m so tired of this . . . it’s been 28 years since the start of the internet and we haven’t passed any of these bills because everyone’s ‘double talk’ ‘double talk’ it’s time to pass them.”
Advocates are hoping the hearing will help kickstart a bipartisan bill, The Kids Online Safety Act, that passed unanimously out of the Senate Commerce Committee last year, but didn’t make the cut for year-end legislation. The bill would require sites that can be accessed by kids younger than 16 to have default privacy and safety protections.
Snap previously endorsed the bill and for the first time on Wednesday, Yaccarino of X, also supported the bill. Other CEOs have not made their stance clear.
Sen Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) said that it would take legislation to make these tech giants fall in line. “The bottom line, I’ve come to conclude, is that you aren’t going to support any of this,” he told the CEOs. “If you’re waiting on these guys to solve the problem, you’re going to die waiting.”
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