NOS News•yesterday, 10:50 PM
Social media platforms care much more about profits than child safety, which was clearly the position of politicians at a hearing in the US Senate. They grilled the directors of Meta, TikTok, X, Snap and Discord for four hours about the protection of underage users.
The title of the hearing by the Senate Committee: Big Tech and the Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis. But the criticism was broader than that. Senators pointed to the growing pile of reports in which researchers draw a direct link between deteriorated mental well-being among children and social media use.
“They are responsible for many of the dangers our children face online,” committee chairman and Democrat Dick Durbin told the assembled CEOs. Parents and relatives of children who committed suicide held up photos of the children in the audience. Statements from children were shown in the audience telling how they had been exploited on social media.
Meta-CEO Zuckerberg was called on to apologize, which he did:
Mark Zuckerberg takes a beating from Senate committee: ‘Apologize’
The representatives of the tech companies countered that they have already taken a broad package of measures. For example, Meta boss Mark Zuckerberg reiterated that his company has invested more than $20 billion since 2016 in making Facebook and Instagram, for example, more secure. There have been all kinds of options for parents to limit their children’s screen time.
Raise your voice
But the senators were unimpressed. For example, Republican Ted Cruz raised his voice and demanded clarification about a child pornography warning on Instagram. Users searching for the term CSAM, which stands for Child Sexual Abuse Material, will see that pop-up.
The text warns users that search results may contain child pornography, that this is prohibited and that it is very harmful to victims. The user is offered help, but also the option to continue to the search results. “Mr. Zuckerberg, what the hell were you thinking!”
Cruz then opened a barrage of questions: how many times has this report been shown, was there really child pornography visible, how many “pedophiles” have looked at it and have they been reported to the police? Halfway through Zuckerberg’s few concrete answers, Cruz kept interrupting him. “Senator, would you like me to answer your questions?” the Meta-boss asked back rhetorically.
Dozens of lawsuits
Meta has been sued by dozens of states in the US. According to the charges, Facebook and Instagram are deliberately designed to be as addictive as possible for children. These platforms are also accused of being very harmful to, for example, children’s self-image and of doing too little to protect young users against online child molesters.
Last week, a new whistleblower sounded the alarm about Meta in the British newspaper The Guardian. According to a former employee, Zuckerberg has the resources to make Instagram safer for teenagers, but the company chooses not to use them. The company denies this and insists that the problem is being tackled head on.
Little support for bills
There are various bills in the US to better protect children online. Director Linda Yaccarino of X, formerly Twitter, announced today that the company is launching the so-called Stop CSAM Act supports. This makes X the first major platform to embrace this bill. If the law is passed, it will make it easier for victims of child exploitation to sue tech companies.
Last week, Snap, the company behind Snapchat, announced that it supports another bill. That proposal makes recommending harmful content for social media platforms a punishable offense. But Snap and X are the exception. Meta, TikTok and Discord have not yet expressed support for such proposals.