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Durbin Presses Big Tech CEOs to Protect Kids from Sexual Exploitation Online During Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing

Durbin questions CEOs of Discord, Meta, Snap, TikTok, and X; X CEO commits to supporting Durbin’s STOP CSAM Act

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today pressed the CEOs of Discord, Meta, Snap, TikTok, and X (formerly known as Twitter) during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that examined Big Tech’s failures to protect kids from sexual exploitation online.  During the hearing, Durbin received a commitment from X’s CEO, Linda Yaccarino, that X will support Durbin’s Strengthening Transparency and Obligations to Protect Children Suffering from Abuse and Mistreatment Act of 2023 (STOP CSAM Act), legislation that supports victims and increases accountability and transparency for online platforms. 

Durbin first questioned Jason Citron, CEO of Discord, about the Senator’s STOP CSAM Act and if online platforms, such as Discord, should be held liable for knowingly distributing child sexual abuse material (CSAM).

“Let me get down to the bottom line here.  I am going to focus on my legislation on CSAM.  What it says is: civil liability if you intentionally or knowingly host or store child sexual abuse materials or make child sex abuse materials available.  Secondly, intentionally or knowingly promote or aid or abet violation of child sexual exploitation laws.  Is there anyone here who believes you should not be held civilly liable for that type of conduct?” Durbin asked.

Mr. Citron responded that there are “parts of the STOP CSAM bill that are very encouraging.”  He also committed to Durbin that he would discuss the STOP CSAM Act with him in the future.  Durbin responded that he would like to meet with Mr. Citron about the bill. 

Durbin continued, “I would sure like to do that [meet with Mr. Citron] because if you intentionally or knowingly post or store CSAM, I think you ought to at least be civilly liable.  I cannot imagine anyone who would disagree with it.”

Durbin then questioned Evan Spiegel, Snap’s CEO, on the company’s failure to address Snapchat’s long known use as a tool to send sexually explicit content.

“It’s never been a secret that Snapchat is used to send sexually explicit images.  In fact, in 2013—early in your company’s history—you admitted this in an interview.  You said that when you were first trying to get people on the app, you would, go up to people and be like: ‘Hey, you should try this application.  You can send disappearing photos.’  And they would say: ‘Oh, for sexting,’” Durbin said.

Durbin continued to say that as early as 2017, law enforcement had identified Snapchat as pedophiles’ go-to sexual exploitation tool.  During his questioning, Durbin cited the case of a 12-year-old girl who was targeted while using Snap.  Over two-and-a-half years, a predator sexually groomed her, who went by L.W. in the court, by coercing her to send him sexually-explicit images and videos over Snapchat.  The man admitted that he only used Snapchat with L.W. —and not any other platforms—because he, “kn[e]w the chats [would] go away.”

“Did you and everyone else at Snap really fail to see that the platform was the perfect tool for sexual predators to exploit children?  Or did you just ignore this risk?” Durbin asked.

Mr. Spiegel responded that Snap provides an in-app reporting tools for those who are being harassed.  He stated that Snap typically responds to those reports within 15 minutes.

Durbin continued to press Mr. Spiegel about L.W.’s case, and if tech companies have the same standards as other companies, particularly with civil liabilities.

“When most companies make a dangerous product, they face civil liability through our tort system.  But when L.W. sued Snapchat, her case was dismissed under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.  Do you have any doubt that, had Snap faced the prospect of civil liability for facilitating sexual exploitation, the company would have implemented better safeguards?”  Durbin asked.

Mr. Spiegel responded that he believes Snap does have safeguards for children when using their platforms.

Durbin then asked Mr. Citron about Discord’s hands-off approach to safety.  According to Discord’s website, it takes a “proactive and automated approach to safety” only on servers with more than 200 members.  Smaller servers rely on server owners and community moderators to define and enforce norms of behavior.

“How do you defend an approach to safety that relies on groups of fewer than 200 sexual predators to report themselves for things like grooming, the trading of CSAM, and sextortion?”  Durbin asked.

Mr. Citron responded that their goal is to “get all of that content off of our platform and ideally prevent it from showing up in the first place.” He went on to say Discord recently launched a program called “Teen Safety Assist” which lets a young user know if they are “in a situation that may be inappropriate so they can report that to us.”

Durbin responded, “Mr. Citron, if that were working, we wouldn’t be here today.”

Mr. Citron stated CSAM is an “on-going challenge for all of us [and] that’s why we’re here today.”  He continued to say that he looks forward to working with Durbin to address CSAM and improve his company.

Durbin then asked Mr. Shou Chew, TikTok’s CEO, about what TikTok is doing to address CSAM.

Mr. Chew testified that TikTok has committed to invest more than $2 billion in trust and safety, has added 40,000 safety professionals to address this issue, and built a personalized child safety team to help identify CSAM. 

Video of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here for TV Stations.

The hearing, entitled “Big Tech and the Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis,” builds on the work Durbin and the Committee have done to extensively examine and investigate the plague of online child sexual exploitation, through hearings, legislation, and oversight efforts.  The hearing also highlighted 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.