US Senators Slam Tech Giants for Failing to Protect Children Online

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The CEOs of Meta, TikTok, Snap, X, and Discord faced a barrage of tough questions and criticism from US senators on Monday, as they testified at a hearing on online child sexual exploitation. The lawmakers accused the tech giants of having “blood on their hands” for not doing enough to prevent and remove harmful content from their platforms.

Meta’s Zuckerberg Apologizes to Grieving Families

One of the most heated moments of the hearing came when Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg was confronted by Senator Lindsey Graham, who told him: “You have blood on your hands. You have a product that’s killing people.” Graham was referring to the cases of several families who were present at the hearing, and who claimed that their children had been harmed or killed as a result of using Meta’s products, such as Instagram and Facebook.

Zuckerberg was also asked by Senator Ted Cruz to explain why Instagram had a warning that alerted users of a potential child abuse image, but still allowed the image to be viewed. Cruz asked Zuckerberg: “What the hell were you thinking?” Zuckerberg admitted that it was a mistake and apologized to the families, saying: “I’m sorry for everything you have all been through. No one should go through the things that your families have suffered.”

Tech CEOs including Mark Zuckerberg

Zuckerberg defended Meta’s efforts to combat online child sexual exploitation, saying that the company invests billions of dollars in safety and security, and uses artificial intelligence to detect and remove harmful content. He also said that Meta supports the passage of legislation that would require tech companies to report child abuse material to law enforcement.

TikTok’s Chew Denies Sharing Data with China

Another tech CEO who faced intense scrutiny was TikTok’s Shou Zi Chew, who was grilled on the company’s data practices and its ties to China. Several senators expressed concern that TikTok, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, could share the personal data of its US users with the Chinese government, or censor content that is critical of China.

Chew denied these allegations, saying that TikTok does not share any user data with China, and that it operates independently from ByteDance. He also said that TikTok has a US-based team that reviews and moderates content, and that it complies with US laws and regulations. He added that TikTok has taken steps to protect the privacy and safety of its users, especially children, such as limiting the features and content available to users under 18.

Chew also revealed that his own children do not use TikTok, because of the rules where he lives in Singapore. He said that he respects the decisions of parents and regulators on how to best protect children online.

Snap, X, and Discord Defend Their Policies and Practices

The other three tech CEOs who testified at the hearing were Evan Spiegel of Snap, Parag Agrawal of X, and Jason Citron of Discord. They had initially refused to appear voluntarily, and were issued subpoenas by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Spiegel said that Snap, which owns the popular photo and video sharing app Snapchat, has a zero-tolerance policy for child sexual exploitation, and that it uses a combination of human review and technology to identify and remove such content. He also said that Snap does not store or archive the messages and photos that users send to each other, unless they choose to save them.

Agrawal said that X, which was formerly known as Twitter, has a dedicated team and a robust system to combat online child sexual exploitation, and that it works closely with law enforcement and other tech companies to share information and best practices. He also said that X has implemented several safety features, such as age verification, parental controls, and content warnings, to protect its users.

Citron said that Discord, which is a platform for online communities and voice and text chat, has a strict policy against child sexual exploitation, and that it uses both automated and manual methods to detect and remove such content. He also said that Discord has a trust and safety team that responds to user reports and law enforcement requests, and that it educates its users on how to stay safe online.

Lawmakers Call for Urgent Action and Legislation

The hearing, which lasted for almost four hours, was part of an ongoing investigation by the Senate Judiciary Committee into how tech platforms are tackling harmful content online and what needs to be done to better protect children. The committee’s chairman, Senator Dick Durbin, said that the hearing was “not a game of gotcha”, but a serious attempt to address a “national emergency”.

Durbin and other lawmakers said that Congress must act quickly to pass legislation that would ensure the safety and well-being of children online. They cited several bills that have been introduced or proposed, such as the EARN IT Act, which would require tech companies to meet certain standards to prevent child sexual exploitation, or face liability; the KIDS Act, which would require tech companies to design their products with the best interests of children in mind; and the SAFE TECH Act, which would limit the legal immunity of tech companies for the content that they host or facilitate.

The lawmakers also urged the tech CEOs to cooperate and collaborate with each other, with law enforcement, and with civil society groups, to combat online child sexual exploitation. They said that the tech industry has a moral and social responsibility to protect children from the dangers and harms that lurk on their platforms.

Category: World

Meta Description: US senators grilled the CEOs of Meta, TikTok, Snap, X, and Discord at a hearing on online child sexual exploitation, and called for urgent action and legislation.

Slug: us-senators-slam-tech-giants-child-safety

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