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Senate Judiciary Committee grills social media CEOs on child safety

In a poignant moment in the hearing, parents stood up and held images of their children who lost their lives to suicide due to social media.
Senate Judiciary Committee grills social media CEOs on child safety
Posted at 4:34 PM, Jan 31, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-31 16:35:55-05

The CEOs of five major social media companies just wrapped up their testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The heads of Meta, X, TikTok, Discord, and Snap were grilled about what they're doing to protect kids on their platforms.

The major concerns are teen suicides, unrealistic beauty standards, bullying and guarding against child predators, and sextortion. The hearing started at 10 a.m. Eastern Time, and it didn't take long for things to get quite emotional.

In a poignant moment, parents stood up and held images of their children who lost their lives to suicide due to social media, as the hearing began with recorded testimonies from children who had been hurt because of these platforms. Mark Zuckerberg turned around and offered an apology.

“I’m sorry for everything you have all been through,” Zuckerberg told them. "It's terrible. No one should have to go through the things that your families have suffered. And this is why we invest so much and are going to continue doing industry-leading efforts to make sure that no one has to go through the things your families have had to suffer."

However, Stefan Turkheimer, vice president of public policy at the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, who was sitting with the parents during the hearing, contends that the apology fell short of being enough.

“I think the parents are incredibly frustrated with the behavior of the platforms, and Facebook specifically, and Mark Zuckerberg even more specifically. I don't think his apology or whatever statement he made made much of a difference to them. I think that they want to see real change in the platforms and real accountability from Facebook and Meta, and they're not getting it, and I don't think the actual statement he made to them really had much effect,” Turkheimer told Scripps News.

Meta is under legal scrutiny from several states, accused of purposefully creating addictive features on Instagram and Facebook for children and failing to protect them from online predators.

During her opening statements, Sen. Amy Klobuchar was visibly frustrated as she compared tech companies’ response to harmful content to grounding Boeing planes after the in-flight emergency earlier this month.

"When a Boeing plane lost a door in midflight several weeks ago, nobody questioned the decision to ground a fleet of over 700 planes. So why are not we taking the same type of decisive action on the danger of these platforms when we know these kids are dying? We have bills that have passed through this incredibly diverse committee when it comes to our political views that have passed through this committee, and they should go to the floor,” she said. “We should do something finally about liability, and then we should turn to some of the other issues that a number of us have worked on when it comes to the charges for app stores and when it comes to the monopoly behavior and the preferencing, but I will stick with this today: Facts, one-third of fentanyl cases investigated over five months had direct ties to social media; that's from the DEA. Facts, between 2012 and 2022, cyber tip-line reports of online child sexual exploitation increased from 415,000 to more than 32 million. And as I noted, at least 20 victims committed suicide in sextortion cases."

Snap CEO Evan Spiegel apologized to families whose children died after purchasing drugs on Snapchat. “I’m so sorry that we have not been able to prevent these tragedies,” he said. Then he proceeded to outline some of the company's efforts to protect its users.

During the hearing, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew emphasized the platform's commitment to enforcing its policy preventing children under 13 from using the app. Meanwhile, CEO Linda Yaccarino stated that X (formerly known as Twitter) does not cater to children but that the company backs the STOP CSAM Act bill that makes tech companies responsible for child sexual exploitation cases by removing their liability shield.

Despite a rare instance of congressional agreement against the platforms during Wednesday's hearing, Congress has yet to enact legislation to regulate social media companies and their content, which has allowed these companies to operate for years without more strict federal oversight.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

SEE MORE: Mother who lost teen to viral challenge calls for more protections


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