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Durbin Delivers Opening Statement During Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing Examining Big Tech’s Failures to Protect Kids from Sexual Exploitation Online

Committee to hear from CEOs of Discord, Meta, Snap, TikTok, and X

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today delivered an opening statement during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled “Big Tech and the Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis,” featuring testimony from the CEOs of Discord, Meta, Snap, TikTok, and X (formerly known as Twitter)—a consensus panel agreed to by Chair Durbin and Ranking Member Graham. The companies range in size, products offered, demographics served, and approaches to address child sexual exploitation and child sexual abuse material.

Online child sexual exploitation is a crisis in this country.  In 2013, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), received approximately 1,380 CyberTips per day.  By 2023—just 10 years later—the number of CyberTips had risen to 100,000 reports per day.

Key Quotes:

“Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee will continue its work on an issue [that is] on the mind of most American families: how to keep our kids safe from sexual exploitation in the internet age.” 

“Online child sexual exploitation includes the use of online platforms to target and groom children, and the production and endless distribution of child sexual abuse material, or CSAM, which can haunt victims for their entire lives or in some cases take their lives.”

“In recent years, we have also seen an explosion in so-called financial ‘sextortion,’ in which a predator uses a fake social media account to trick a minor into sending explicit photos or videos, then threatens to release them unless the victim sends money.” 

“This disturbing growth in child sexual exploitation is driven by one thing: changes in technology… Smartphones are in the pockets of seemingly every man, woman, and teenager on the planet.  These apps have changed the way we live, work, and play.  But, as investigations have detailed, social media and messaging apps have also given predators powerful new tools to sexually exploit children.”   

“Discord has been used to groom, abduct, and abuse children.  Meta’s Instagram helped connect and promote a network of pedophiles.  Snapchat’s disappearing messages have been co-opted by criminals who financially sextort young victims.  TikTok has become a, ‘platform of choice’ for predators to access, engage, and groom children for abuse, and the prevalence of CSAM on X has grown as the company has gutted its trust and safety workforce.”

“Today, we will hear from the CEOs of each of these companies.  They are not the only tech companies that have contributed to this crisis, but they are responsible for many of the dangers our children face online.  Their design choices, their failures to adequately invest in trust and safety, and their constant pursuit of engagement and profit over basic safety have all put our kids and grandkids at risk.” 

“Coincidently, several of these companies implemented commonsense child safety improvements within the last week—days before their CEOs would have had to justify their lack of action to Congress.  But the tech industry alone is not to blame for the situation we’re in.” 

“Those of us in Congress need to look in the mirror. In 1996—the same year the Motorola StarTAC was flying off shelves and years before social media went mainstream—we passed Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.  This law immunized then-nascent internet platforms from liability for user-generated content.” 

“For the past 30 years, Section 230 has remained largely unchanged, allowing Big Tech to grow into the most profitable industry in the history of capitalism without fear of liability for unsafe practices.”

“That must change.  Over the past year, this Committee has unanimously reported five bills that would finally hold tech companies accountable for child sexual exploitation on their platforms.” 

“One of those bills is my STOP CSAM Act.  Critically, it would let victims sue online providers that promote or aid and abet online child sexual exploitation, or that host or store CSAM.   This stand against online child sexual exploitation is bipartisan and absolutely necessary.  Let this hearing be the call to action we need to get kids online safety legislation to the President’s desk.”

Video of Durbin’s opening statement is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s opening statement is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s opening statement is available here for TV Stations.

Durbin and the Committee have extensively examined and investigated the plague of online child sexual exploitation, through hearings, legislation, and oversight efforts. This hearing will build on that work and highlight the need for Congress to act on the bipartisan bills reported by the Committee. Visit this webpage for an overview of the Committee’s efforts, including descriptions of the pending legislation and a timeline of events.