Big Tech CEOs Called Out by Senators: ‘You Need to Do Much More to Protect Children’
It’s been long established that the world of social media is a dangerous place — and over time, it’s only grown more dangerous. While Big Tech overlords have implemented some features to guard against minors being exposed to inappropriate content, experts say it’s not enough.
On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing where the CEOs of Meta, TikTok, X, Snapchat, and Discord testified. It’s exceptionally rare for both sides of the aisle to be on the same page, and yet, Wednesday’s hearing proved to be one of those unique occasions. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), on behalf of the committee, insisted up front that “every social media company needs to do much more to protect children.”
In part, the hearing mirrored what occurred in June 2023, when The Wall Street Journal published a report that showed Instagram’s algorithm was “actively connecting pedophiles to accounts that were advertising the sale of child sexual abuse material.” What was a problem last summer has only grown worse. The number of children who have been exposed to explicit content and child predators has skyrocketed, as well as the deaths of individuals who unknowingly purchased fentanyl off social media. There’s also been a rise of self-harm, eating disorders, and suicide due to “harmful social media content,” Fox News reported.
Out of all the CEOs present, Mark Zuckerburg, the CEO of Meta, received the most direct backlash from the senators. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was blunt, “Mr. Zuckerberg, you and the companies before us, I know you don’t mean it to be so, but you have blood on your hands. You have a product that’s killing people.”
Sitting behind the Big Tech CEOs were the families that have lost loved ones due to these threats. At one point during the hearing, Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) pressured Zuckerburg to apologize to those families. The Senate is trying to better protect children, and in this process the committee has already passed five bills that implement safeguards. But the question on everyone’s minds was why the CEOs weren’t taking the same strides to control the content on their outlets.
Cruz pointed out a warning on Instagram posts that comes up to flag a user of content with potential child sex abuse. However, instead of the content being removed, the icon gives the user an option to get resources or to “see results anyway.” Aghast, Cruz pressed, “In what sane universe is there a link for ‘see results anyway?’” All Zuckerburg had to say in response is they “might be wrong,” which makes them hesitant to pull the material down entirely.
When Cruz asked how often that warning label showed up and users still clicked to see the material, Zuckerburg said he didn’t know. “[O]kay, so you’re refusing to answer,” Cruz stated.
Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) told Fox News, “[It’s] clear that Big Tech is prioritizing profit over the wellbeing of our children.” She continued, “These executives have failed to take action and are sitting idly by as our children are dying from fentanyl and being trafficked online.” And many experts have dug up evidence that Big Tech is ignoring the damaging reality of their product in order to continue making money.
As social media use grows, it’s turning into the place where most young people get most of their information. At the same time, it’s also proving to be a dangerous world of pornographic content, pedophiles, and political censorship for people of all ages. It stands to reason that the responses from the CEOs at the hearing came as a disappointment to those who want to keep children safe.
Despite the CEO’s attempts to explain what measures they’re taking to protect children, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) listed the problems each social media platform had. As The Washington Times summarized, Durbin claimed, “[The] Discord [communication service] was used to abuse children, Meta enabled a network of pedophiles, Snapchat’s disappearing messages were used by criminals, TikTok was a platform for predators, and X has growing child sexual abuse material on its platform.”
Meg Kilgannon, senior fellow for Education Studies at Family Research Council, commented to The Washington Stand, “There is a billion-dollar porn industry looking for new consumers, including and especially children. Social media companies are part of another billion-dollar industry looking for new consumers, including and especially children.” And increasingly, she pointed out, “these two industries are nearly indistinguishable.”
“I hope this hearing was an opportunity for the leaders of social media companies to think about their responsibility to protect children and work for the good of all people,” she said, “regardless of profit margins.”
Sarah Holliday is a reporter at The Washington Stand.