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'Your product is killing people': technology leaders denounced for child safety| GuyWhoKnowsThings

Lawmakers on Wednesday denounced the CEOs of Meta, TikTok, X, Snap and Discord for creating “a crisis in America” by willfully ignoring harmful content against children on their platforms, as concerns have multiplied about the effect of technology on young people.

In 3.5 hours very loaded audience, members of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee raised their voices and repeatedly criticized the five tech leaders (who run online services that are popular with teenagers and younger children) for prioritizing profits over the well-being of young people. Some said the companies had “blood on their hands” and that users would “die waiting” for them to make changes to protect children. At one point, lawmakers compared technology companies to cigarette makers.

“Every parent in America is terrified by the garbage directed at our children,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

Tech chiefs, some of whom came forward after being forced by a subpoena, said they had invested billions to strengthen security measures on their platforms. Some said they supported a bill that strengthens privacy and parental controls for children, while others pointed to the failures of their rivals. All of the executives emphasized that they were parents themselves.

In an intense exchange with Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., Mark Zuckerberg, Meta's chief executive, stood and turned to address dozens of parents of victims of online child sexual exploitation.

“I'm sorry for everything you've been through,” Zuckerberg said. “No one should have to go through the things their families have suffered.” He did not address whether Meta platforms had played a role in that suffering and said the company was investing in efforts to prevent such experiences.

The bipartisan hearing summarized the growing alarm about the impact of technology on children and teenagers. Last year, Dr. Vivek Murthy, the US surgeon general, identified social media as a cause of a youth mental health crisis. In 2023, more than 105 million images, videos and online materials related to child sexual abuse were reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the federally designated clearinghouse for images. Parents have blamed the platforms for encouraging cyberbullying and harassment of children. suicides.

The issue has united Republicans and Democrats, with lawmakers pushing for a crackdown on the way Silicon Valley companies treat their youngest and most vulnerable users. Some lawmakers, seizing on an issue that has outraged parents, have called for action and introduced bills to stop the spread of child sexual abuse material and hold platforms accountable for protecting young people.

Tech giants face growing national and global scrutiny over their effect on children. Some states have enacted laws requiring social media services to verify the ages of their users or take other steps to protect young people, although those rules have faced legal challenges. Online safety laws have also been passed in the European Union and in Great Britain.

The White House also weighed in on Wednesday. “There is now undeniable evidence” that social media is contributing to the youth mental health crisis, said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

However, the grilling of tech leaders on Wednesday may not mean much, if history is any guide. Meta executives have testified 33 times since 2017 on issues such as election interference by foreign agents, antitrust laws and the role of social media in the storming of the US Capitol on January 6, but it has not been approved no federal law to hold technology companies accountable. Dozens of bills have failed after partisan disputes over the details and lobbying efforts by the tech industry.

David Vladeck, a Georgetown University Law School professor and former head of consumer protection at the Federal Trade Commission, compared Congress's actions on technology to the cartoon “Peanuts.”

“Congress has constantly criticized technology legislation that seems essential, but I feel like Charlie Brown: Every time he wants to kick the ball, Lucy takes it away from him,” he said.

The federal government has also failed to comply with existing laws that could provide more resources to combat online child abuse, The New York Times reported. found. Notably, law enforcement funding has not kept pace with amazing increase of reports of online abuse, even though Congress was authorized to release more money.

On Wednesday, Zuckerberg testified before Congress for the eighth time. TikTok CEO Shou Chew returned as a witness less than a year after appearing in an audience. Evan Spiegel, CEO of Snap, Linda Yaccarino, CEO of X, and Jason Citron, CEO of Discord, testified for the first time after lawmakers subpoenaed them.

Lawmakers have focused on the harmful effects of social media on children since 2021, when a Meta whistleblower, Frances Haugenrevealed internal documents that showed that the company knew that her Instagram platform was making body image problems worse among adolescents. Since then, the Senate Judiciary Committee has held several hearings with technology executives, sexual exploitation experts and others to highlight dangerous activity for children online.

Before Wednesday's hearing began, lawmakers released internal emails among Meta's top executives, including Mr. Zuckerberg, showing that his company had rejected calls to increase resources to combat child safety issues.

The hearing, held in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, began with a video of victims of child sexual exploitation, who said that technology companies had failed them. In a rare show of agreement, Republican and Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee took turns accusing tech leaders of knowing the harm children face on their platforms.

Companies' “constant pursuit of compromise and profits over basic safety puts our children and grandchildren at risk,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, the committee's chairman and an Illinois Democrat.

At one point, Senator Hawley told Zuckerberg: “Your product is killing people.”

Zuckerberg and Chew received the most attention, with lawmakers chiding them for not supporting child safety legislation. After lawmakers pressed Spiegel about the problem of drug sales on Snapchat, he apologized to parents whose children died of fentanyl overdoses after purchasing the drugs through the platform.

“I am very sorry that we were not able to prevent these tragedies,” he said, adding that Snap blocks drug-related search terms and works with authorities.

Lawmakers also focused on proposals that would expose platforms to lawsuits by eliminating a 1996 statute, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, that protects internet companies from liability for the content on their sites.

“Nothing is going to change unless we open the doors of the courts,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. “Money speaks even louder than we do up here.”

At times, lawmakers delved into areas unrelated to child safety. Chew, in particular, faced questions about how TikTok's owner, Beijing-based ByteDance, handles American users' data. He also came under pressure over a report that a TikTok lobbyist in Israel resigned this week based on accusations that the platform was discriminating against Israelis.

Noticeably absent from the audience was the most popular app among teens: YouTube. Seven in 10 teens use YouTube daily, according to the Pew Research Center. 58 percent of teens use TikTok daily, followed by Snap at 51 percent and Instagram at 47 percent.

In 2022, YouTube reported more than 631,000 content to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, according to a report by Google.

Apple was also absent. The company have angry child safety groups for backtracking on a 2021 promise to scan iPhones for abusive material towards children.

YouTube and Apple were not invited to the hearing. A spokesperson for the Judiciary Committee said the five executives who testified represented a diverse group of companies.

Weeks before Wednesday's hearing, some of the technology companies announced changes to their children-related services. goal introduced stricter controls on direct messaging for teenagers and greater parental controls. Snap announced his support for the Child Online Safety Act, proposed legislation to restrict data collection about children and tighten parental controls on social media.

Outside the Capitol building on Wednesday, a nonprofit critical of Big Tech displayed cardboard cutouts of Zuckerberg and Chew sitting atop a mountain of cash while toasting glasses of champagne. Inside the courtroom, parents displayed photos of victims of online child sexual exploitation.

Mary Rodee, a mother in the courtroom, said she lost Riley, her 15-year-old son, in 2021 after sexual exploitation on Facebook Messenger. Since then, she has fought for legislation to protect children online.

“Companies are not doing enough,” he said. “Enough talking.”

Kate Conger, Michael H. Keller, mike isaac, Sapna Maheshwari, natasha singer and Michael D. Shear contributed reports.

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