In a Senate inquiry, CEOs of Meta and TikTok faced tough questions, emphasizing their commitment to child safety. Mark Zuckerberg and Shou Zi Chew defended their platforms, addressing concerns on online child exploitation. The hearing aimed to inform legislation, compelling these tech giants to do more in safeguarding children on their social media apps.
The hearing, held on Wednesday, January 31, featured top executives such as Evan Spiegel (Snap), Jason Citron (Discord), and Linda Yaccarino (X). While previous hearings focused on teen safety, this event marked the first time Congress heard directly from Spiegel, Yaccarino, and Citron. It was also only the second appearance for TikTok’s Chew, who faced questions about the app’s safety record and ties to China.
Mark Zuckerberg, no stranger to such hearings, found himself under particular pressure following allegations about Meta’s safety practices. Court documents from a lawsuit by 41 state attorneys general claimed that Meta turned a blind eye to children under 13 using its service and did little to prevent adults from sexually harassing teens on Facebook. The lawsuit further alleged that Zuckerberg personally intervened to stop a ban on plastic surgery filters on Instagram.
As Zuckerberg addressed Congress, he emphasized Meta’s commitment to online child safety: “We’re committed to protecting young people from abuse on our services, but this is an ongoing challenge. As we improve defenses in one area, criminals shift their tactics, and we have to come up with new responses.”
Shou Zi Chew, TikTok‘s CEO, echoed Zuckerberg’s sentiments: “Safety is one of the core priorities that defines TikTok under my leadership. We currently have more than 40,000 trust and safety professionals working to protect our community globally, and we expect to invest more than $2 billion in trust and safety efforts this year alone.”
The CEOs detailed their efforts to combat child exploitation on their platforms, highlighting collaborations with law enforcement and proactive identification of potential predators. Zuckerberg emphasized Meta’s commitment to online child safety, stating that the company has over 40,000 people working on safety and security, with an investment exceeding $20 billion since 2016.
In a related development, the Senate hearing focused on the overarching theme that these tech companies have designed addictive platforms damaging the mental well-being of children and young adults. Lawmakers expressed bipartisan support for measures that would shield teens from algorithms, limit data gathering, and implement parental consent requirements.
The hearing also touched upon proposed bills addressing online safety and child exploitation. One such bill, the Stop CSAM Act, allows victims of online child sexual exploitation to sue tech platforms and app stores. Another proposal, the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), aims to establish a “duty of care” for tech firms, requiring enhanced parental controls and annual audits of platform risks to children.
Despite concerns raised during the Senate hearing and related child-safety lawsuits, investors showed limited worry, as the impact on these firms’ finances seemed unlikely in the short term. Regulation, if proposed, would require time to pass in Congress and take effect.
Meta, in particular, faced several lawsuits related to children’s well-being on its apps. One lawsuit from New Mexico’s attorney general alleged that Meta’s apps enable sexual predators to exploit children. Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of attorneys general filed a joint federal lawsuit, claiming that Meta knowingly designed addictive apps harmful to children’s mental health.
As the tech industry grapples with the ongoing scrutiny, the executives pledged support for legislative efforts. Snap’s CEO, Evan Spiegel, voiced support for the Kids Online Safety Act, emphasizing the company’s commitment to legislative requirements and measures to safeguard teens.
The Senate inquiry provided a platform for CEOs to address concerns on child safety, highlighting ongoing efforts and collaborations with law enforcement. The tech industry’s engagement with lawmakers in crafting effective legislation reflects a shared commitment to creating safer online spaces for children and young users. As the debate continues, the impact on these social networking firms remains a focal point, with potential regulatory changes shaping the future landscape of online child safety.