US senators have urgently invited the CEOs of five of the major social media giants to testify about their failure to protect children online. The Senate Judiciary Committee said it will hear from Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, X (formerly Twitter) CEO Linda Yaccarino, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel, and Discord CEO Jason Citron.
In a press release, the US senate committee on the judiciary announced that the Committee’s previously announced hearing on online child sexual exploitation has been rescheduled for January 31, 2024 and will feature testimony from the CEOs. An earlier hearing on Tuesday, February 14, 2023, included only consumer advocates as witnesses, and no industry representatives.
The CEOs of X, Discord, and Snap will testify after subpoenas were issued by the Committee, following repeated refusals by the three leaders to testify. The CEOs of Meta and TikTok voluntarily agreed to testify at the hearing.
Senators Durbin and Graham commented:
“Several companies initially refused to accept a subpoena. The US Marshals Service even attempted to serve the subpoena at Discord’s office. Both actions are remarkable departures from typical practice.”
The hearing comes as part of a bipartisan effort to protect children online. To that end, several online safety bills across multiple states have gone into effect. For example, Utah signed a bill in March that will require minors to obtain parental consent to sign up to social platforms, while both Louisiana and Mississippi now require age verification to view content considered harmful to children, like porn. On the other hand, a federal judge has blocked a Texas law requiring age verification and a health warning for viewing pornographic websites, a day before the law was set to take effect.
In May, we talked to Alec Muffet about the possible downsides of some of these bills.
During the “Protecting our children online” hearing in February, witnesses and senators mentioned requirements like parental controls, default settings, and audits as tools that could be used to promote online safety for teenagers. They focused on the importance of holding platforms liable for failure to enforce their own terms, and discussed imposing a duty of care on online platforms.
So now seems to be the time that the CEOs of the major platforms will be forced to explain what they have done in the past and how they plan to do better in the future. You would expect they would like to bring their ideas and input voluntarily to the table, but nonetheless it took subpoenas to get them all there.
Children and online safety
The internet is both a good and bad place. A good approach is to spend little to no time on sites that do not give your child a positive and learning experience. And when it comes to internet safety for kids and teens, the best approach is for parents and carers to be involved in their child’s digital life.
If you don’t want to rely on the introduction of legislation and how the social media platforms will undoubtedly struggle to become compliant, we can recommend reading our blog titled “Internet safety tips for kids and teens: A comprehensive guide for the modern parent.”
I do expect some of the platforms to drag their feet, because it seems they always do. Meta is already facing a lawsuit, filed in a California federal court, which argues that Meta unlawfully misled the public about the harms its products, like Facebook and Instagram, could impose on children and teens.
In the UK, Bytedance’s TikTok is looking at a $28.91m fine related to how children are safeguarded on the app.
And Meta, ByteDance, Alphabet, and Snap, are facing another lawsuit alleging their social platforms have adverse mental health effects on children and for running platforms that are addictive to kids.
While it is clear that something needs to be done to protect our children, agreeing on the way in which we can achieve this is hard. Especially if we can’t rely on all the social media platforms to volunteer their cooperation.
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