Prominent social media company CEOs, including those from X (formerly Twitter), Meta, TikTok, Discord, and Snap, will testify as the U.S. intensifies efforts to regulate social media.
Over 200 organizations have pressed Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to make the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) a voting priority, driven by concerns for children’s safety on these platforms. KOSA seeks to hold apps and online platforms accountable for recommending content that harms minors’ mental health. Lawmakers have also introduced bipartisan bills like the Stop CSAM Act amidst this increased regulatory scrutiny. Despite this, tech executives continue to emphasize their dedication to child safety, pointing to various proactive tools designed to thwart online exploitation.
The Washington Examiner detailed the tense hearings.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) directly accused Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and the heads of other Big Tech companies of bearing responsibility for the deaths of teenagers who died by suicide after encountering sexual exploitation or other harmful content on their platforms.
“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,” Graham said Wednesday in opening remarks for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing at which Zuckerberg and other CEOs were testifying. “You have a product that’s killing people.”
Graham’s remarks, which also included a call for new legislation to prevent child sexual abuse material on social media, drew applause from attendees, many of whom were groups advocating laws that would force Big Tech companies to take additional action against harmful content on their platforms, as well as parents whose children died by suicide because of sexual exploitation or other toxic content on the platforms. Many of these parents held up pictures of their children while sitting in the hearing room, prompting Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), the committee chairman, to remind attendees to “maintain the traditions of the committee.”
Ted Cruz also laid into Zuckerberg during the hearing as he discussed Instagram’s alleged assistance to pedophiles in accessing inappropriate child sexual content.
“Cruz referred to investigative reporting by The Wall Street Journal exposing that numerous pedophiles have exploited Instagram’s algorithms and networking features for predatory activities during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “Big Tech and the Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis.” Cruz also presented a printed Instagram warning screen that provides an option for people searching for child abuse material to view the content on the platform and pressed the Meta CEO about it,” reported The Daily Caller.
“What was particularly concerning about The Wall Street Journal expose was the degree to which Instagram’s own algorithm was promoting the discoverability of victims for pedophiles seeking child abuse material,” Cruz asserted. “In other words, this material wasn’t just living on the dark corners of Instagram. Instagram was helping pedophiles find it by promoting graphic hashtags.”
Social media has gotten the attention of several lawmakers after polling has shown that apps used by teenagers are promoting radical ideas and shaping an entire generation of Americans to accept ideas once considered out of bounds.
While Graham focused on Zuckerberg, Chinese-controlled Tik Tok has sparked the most debate. The National Review noted that “when asked, ‘Do you think that the attacks on Jews were genocidal in nature or not genocidal?’ 62 percent of respondents aged 18 to 24 said yes. However, when asked, “Do you think the Hamas killing of 1200 Israeli civilians in Israel can be justified by the grievances of Palestinians or is it not justified?’ a 51 percent to 49 percent majority said the attacks were justified.
To repeat: Sixty-two percent say the attacks were genocidal, but only 49 percent say the genocide against Jews wasn’t justified.”
In November, Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher recently presented the case to ban Tik Tok.
“The short answer is, increasingly, via social media and predominantly TikTok. TikTok is not just an app teenagers use to make viral dance videos. A growing number of Americans rely on it for their news. Today, TikTok is the top search engine for more than half of Gen Z, and about six in ten Americans are hooked on the app before their seventeenth birthday. And it is controlled by America’s foremost adversary, one that does not share our interests or our values: the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, is Chinese, and in China there is no such thing as a private company. As if to underscore the point, ByteDance’s chief editor, Zhang Fuping, is also the boss of the company’s internal Communist Party cell.
We know of TikTok’s predatory nature because the app has several versions. In China, there is a safely sanitized version called Douyin. That version, using much of the same technology, shows kids science experiments and other educational content, and its use is limited to forty minutes per day. Here in America, the application’s algorithm is exquisitely tuned to prioritize polarizing outrage and addictive, brain-numbing nonsense (at best) and dangerous propaganda (at worst). Put differently, ByteDance and the CCP have decided that China’s children get spinach, and America’s get digital fentanyl.
And we are absolutely hooked, with 16 percent of teens using it “almost constantly.” Today, 69.7 percent of Americans aged 12–17, 76.2 percent aged 18–24, and 54 percent aged 25–34 use TikTok. By tweaking the TikTok algorithm, the CCP can censor information and influence Americans of all ages on a variety of issues. It can shape what facts they consider accurate, and what conclusions they draw from world events.”
A recent poll stunned leaders when it was revealed that roughly a fifth of Americans between the age of 18-29 believe that the Holocaust is a myth.
According to the same poll, only 7 percent of Americans overall believe the Holocaust is a myth.
During questioning, the FBI director claimed that Tik Tok could change their algorithms to help sway the upcoming presidential election.
.@RepMoulton: "If the CCP were to want to change @tiktok_us feeds to bias 1 candidate… in the upcoming presidential election, would they be able to do so?"@FBI Director Wray: "My understanding is that under Chinese law that would be something they are permitted to do.” pic.twitter.com/bTAgTjuSzy
— Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party (@committeeonccp) January 31, 2024