Senators prepare to question CEOs of top tech companies on online child exploitation

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hear long-awaited testimony from the most powerful people in tech on Wednesday as rare bipartisan support coalesces for a sweeping overhaul of social media platforms.

Appearing as witnesses at the committee hearing titled “Big Tech and the Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis”, Linda Yaccarino, CEO of X (formerly Twitter), Shou Chew, CEO of TikTok, Evan Spiegel, CEO Snap, and Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, will face tough questions about how their companies address child safety.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, one of Congress’s most vocal critics on Big Tech, said the hearing “will be about trust,” in fact, he said, about ” lack of confidence.

He and another member of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., are pushing for passage of the Children Online Safety Act, legislation that would require platforms to give parents new controls for detect and report harmful behavior, implement accountability mechanisms for social media platforms and lift the veil on their algorithms.

“Big tech companies have an army (of lobbyists) fighting us every step of the way,” Blackburn said.

Of the companies called to testify, Snap was the only one to endorse the bill. On Tuesday, Microsoft announced its support for the legislation.

Notably, YouTube will not be represented at the hearing. According to the Pew Research Center, it is by far the most used social media platform, with 95% of teens reporting using it. The second most popular app is TikTok, followed by Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook which round out the top five.

Many platforms have pushed back against accusations that they are not prioritizing security. Over the past year, Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, has rolled out more than a dozen safety features aimed at parental monitoring, mental health and usage throttling. Snapchat offers a step-by-step guide for parents to supervise their child’s use of the app.

Frustrated parents and child safety advocates also blame Congress for inaction.

“Let me be clear: we do not need a tenth, eleventh or twenty-fifth hearing to demonstrate that unregulated social media has been a disaster for the privacy, well-being and safety of young people,” he said. said Josh Golin, executive director of Fairplay. an advocacy group focused on screen time safety.

Dozens of parents are expected at Wednesday’s hearing, many of whom have lost children to social media-related issues like cyberbullying, eating disorders and drug overdoses purchased through apps.

Among them will be Todd Minor, Sr. and his wife. Their son Matthew, aged 12, died in March 2019 after taking part in a “blackout challenge” which encouraged children to choke.

His classmates came to see us at his tribute the day before his funeral and they told us how much they used this social media and also if they were looking for something they were just bombarded with information after searching for it once,” Minor said.

Minor’s family created the Matthew E. Minor Awareness Foundation to bring attention to the dangers posed to children online.

“I and my fellow citizens choose to believe that there is still good in this world and there is still good in this country,” Minor said. “This is the greatest country in the world and I don’t see why we can’t keep our children safe online.

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