Lawmakers rip into tech CEOs at Senate hearing on online child safety

CEO at Discord, Snapchat, TikTok, X, and Meta at the US Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing
From L to R: CEOs at Discord, Snapchat, TikTok, X, and Meta at the US Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on online child sexual exploitation.Alex Wong/Getty
  • US lawmakers grilled CEOs from tech giants on their platform's online safety practices.

  • Senators appeared to be bullish on whether the tech CEOs support their proposed laws.

  • CEOs were also seen getting testy and deflecting the lawmaker's claims.

US lawmakers grilled tech CEOs about their companies' safety practices during this week's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on online child sexual exploitation.

During the hearing, which kicked off on Wednesday, US lawmakers were seen interrogating CEOs at tech giants like Meta, TikTok, and X on how they run their platforms and keep them safe. And it appears that the US senators and CEOs just can't get on the same page.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, sporting a "<3" emoticon button on his lapel, pushed executives on their support for various child safety bills. Several of the measures would amend Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which shields tech companies from lawsuits stemming from content on their platforms.

"There's no commission to go to that can punish you, there's not one law in the book [on online child safety] because you oppose everything we do, and you can't be sued," Graham told the CEOs. "That has to stop."

The executives – with the exception of X's Linda Yaccarino (voicing support for the "EARN IT Act") and Snapchat's Evan Spiegel (who has backed the "Kids Online Safety Act") – seemed reluctant to endorse the bills.

Graham noted that most of the child safety measures before the committee have garnered bipartisan support, adding that lawmakers are "done with talking."

"If you're waiting on these guys to solve the problem, you're gonna die waiting," he said.

Later in the hearing, Sen. Ted Cruz questioned Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg on whether Instagram reports users that open content the social platform warns may contain images of child sexual abuse. In response, Zuckerberg said the company doesn't have that data and takes down any sexual abuse content it detects. But as Cruz interrupted him – repeatedly asking him the same question – Zuckerberg got a little testy.

"Senator, do you want me to answer the question?" he responded.

Senator Cruz gave TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew just as hard of a time. When asked if ByteDance, the Chinese tech company behind TikTok, protects secrets from the Chinese government under Chinese law, Chew pushed back and said that TikTok stores its data in the US. Cruz didn't seem convinced.

"I do not believe you and I can tell you the American people don't either," Cruz said.

Cruz asserted that ByteDance shows more kid-friendly content in China (through TikTok's counterpart Douyin) than in the US, an assertion that Chew rejected as "just not accurate."

Continuing on the topic of China, Sen. Tom Cotton repeatedly asked Chew whether he's affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party.

"Senator, I'm Singaporean. No!," the TikTok CEO said in response.

Sen. Jon Ossoff, the youngest member of the committee and the first millennial elected to the Senate, sparred with Zuckerberg over arguments that social media platforms pose an inherent danger for children. Zuckerberg labeled that a "mischaracterization" of the reality. But Ossoff countered by saying it's the "overwhelming" public consensus.

"Everyone knows there's a correlation [between social media and mental health]," said the Georgia Democrat. "Everyone knows kids that spend a lot of time, too much time on your platforms are at risk."

Sen. Richard Blumenthal charged Zuckerberg with rejecting past requests to invest in platform safety, and noted a lawsuit alleging that the Facebook founder misled lawmakers in his past testimony.

"It is the reason why we can no longer trust Meta, and quite frankly any of the other social media, to, in effect, grade their own homework," he said.

Zuckerberg also drew a fiery rebuke from California Sen. Laphonza Butler, after claiming that Meta has had "a lot of conversations" with parents about product design for minors.

"We talked about this last night and you gave me a very different answer," she said. "I asked you this very question. You said to me that you had not."

Zuckerberg said he "must have misspoke."

"I hope you hear what is being offered to you and are prepared to step up and do better," Butler told Zuckerberg. "I know this Senate committee is going to do our work to hold you to account."

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