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Recap: Senate Judiciary Committee Presses Big Tech CEOs on Failures to Protect Kids Online During Landmark Hearing

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WASHINGTON – In case you missed it, the Senate Judiciary Committee pressed the CEOs of Discord, Meta, Snap, TikTok, and X on their failures to protect kids from sexual exploitation online. The landmark, bipartisan hearing marked the first time a group of Big Tech CEOs testified about online child sexual exploitation before Congress, including first-time Congressional appearances from the CEOs of Discord, Snap, and X.

“I’ve had the honor of serving in the House and Senate, and now as Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. I will tell you that I will never forget this day,” said U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in his press conference with Ranking Member Lindsey Graham (R-SC) after the hearing. “I want to thank Senator Graham. He and I have differences on politics, but we sure do have a lot of things we agree on. This is one of them.”

“As I said to the families who were here: Don’t just leave with concern or even anger about this industry,” Durbin concluded. “Leave with the determination to put the pressure on Congress – Republicans and Democrats alike – to do something. Get it done this year. Kids are in danger, and some are dying because of the terrible things that are happening on the Internet. We can do better.”

Highlights from the hearing include, among other things:

  • A video of survivor and advocate testimony directly shown to the five CEOs at the top of the hearing, offering a chance for victims of Big Tech’s exploitation to address them directly;
  • A commitment from X’s CEO, Linda Yaccarino, that X will support Durbin’s STOP CSAM Act, as well as the SHIELD Act, Kids Online Safety Act, and REPORT Act;
  • A commitment from Snap’s CEO, Evan Spiegel, that Snap will support the Kids Online Safety Act;
  • An apology from Mark Zuckerberg to survivors and parents who lost kids to social media;
  • A joint press conference from Chair Durbin and Ranking Member Graham, featuring survivor testimonies on the failures of Big Tech; and
  • A number of privacy and safety updates announced by the platforms in advance of the hearing – which, while welcome, fall far short of what is necessary to protect our kids online.

Visit this webpage for an overview of the Committee’s efforts, including descriptions of the pending legislation and a timeline of events.

Senate Judiciary Committee Member Highlights

Chair Durbin on subpoenas: “I will note for the record that Mr. Zuckerberg and Mr. Chew are appearing voluntarily. I am disappointed that our other witnesses did not offer that same degree of cooperation. Mr. Citron, Mr. Spiegel, and Ms. Yaccarino are here pursuant to subpoenas. Mr. Citron only accepted service of the subpoenas after U.S. Marshals were sent to Discord’s headquarters at taxpayers’ expense. I hope this is not a sign of your commitment – or a lack of commitment – to addressing the serious issue before us.”

Ranking Member Graham to Zuckerberg on if victims can sue him: “He can’t.”

Sen. Grassley on Big Tech’s public relations campaign prior to the hearing: “Big Tech didnt spare a dime trying 2 save face before 2day's Judic hrg.”

Sen. Klobuchar on the importance of action on child safety online: “We have bills that have passed through this incredibly diverse Committee, and they should go to the floor.”

Sen. Coons after all five CEOs refuse to support a bill to share data on safety: “Let the record reflect a yawning silence.”

Sen. Blumenthal to Zuckerberg on internal Meta memos warning of dangers to children: “It was written to you.”

Sen. Hirono on the dangers of the Internet for young people: “These companies have an obligation to ensure young people are safe. They can't look the other way when kids are harmed online.”

Sen. Padilla asking all five CEOs: “How many minors are on your platform? How many use family center tools?”

Sen. Ossoff to Zuckerberg on his claims of no correlation between Meta platforms and mental health: “Everyone knows there’s a correlation.”

Sen. Welch on the need for a simple, same-day process to have non-consensual, compromising images removed: “Shouldn't that just be a standard for all social media companies?”

Sen. Butler to Zuckerberg after flip-flopping if he has sat with parents and young people: “That’s interesting, because we talked about this last night and you gave me a very different answer.”

Sen. Butler to all five California companies: “I know that there are statistics, and I know that there are efforts. As a California company – all of you – I have talked with you about what it means to be a good neighbor. You owe them more. And I look forward to you showing up to all pieces of legislation. All of you.”

TV Highlights

CNN: Social Media CEOs Grilled at Hearing on Child Dangers

Poppy Harlow | February 1, 2024


DURBIN: “I’ve never been through that experience. Can you imagine looking out at a sea of grieving parents, holding up signs of lost children?”

DURBIN: “It wasn’t just a political exercise. This is a question for our humanity.”

MSNBC: Social Media CEOs Grilled at Hearing on Child Exploitation

Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski, Al Sharpton, Willie Geist | February 1, 2024


DURBIN: “I hope you can imagine the emotion in the moment.”

DURBIN: “With stealth, Big Tech quietly undermines any effort to regulate their companies. It blew up in their faces yesterday.”

CNN: Senators Grill Top Execs Over Social Media Impact on Teens

Boris Sanchez, Clare Duffy | January 31, 2024


SANCHEZ: “Sitting right behind the CEOs were family members of children who were harmed engaging with social media.”

DUFFY: “The CEOs were largely defensive.”

DUFFY: “We did get some rare admissions from these CEOs.”

MSNBC: Lawmakers Push Bill to Make it Easier for Parents to Sue Big Tech Companies

Katy Tur, Kate Snow | January 31, 2024


TUR: “Companies were asked why they did not support Congressional legislation to make their platforms safer for kids.”

TUR: “In a moment unlike anything we’ve seen in these hearings before, Mark Zuckerberg was pushed to apologize directly to families.”

SNOW: ““Very horrible stories in the room.”

SNOW: “What families want is change.”

SNOW: “Anyone can go on any of these 5 social media platforms and sign up as a different person.”

SNOW: “There’s no age verification done on these platforms.”

CNN: Big Tech CEOs Face Tough Questions at Child Online Safety Hearing

Tom Foreman | January 31, 2024


FOREMAN: “I have rarely seen this kind of show in a Senate hearing. There was complete unanimity in going after these companies.”

FOREMAN: “I think the odds of some kind of legislation passing just went way up.”

Front Pages Highlights

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Print Highlights

AP News:  Meta, TikTok and other social media CEOs testify in heated Senate hearing on child exploitation

Barbara Ortutay, Haleluya Hadero | January 31, 2024

“The hearing began with recorded testimony from kids and parents who said they or their children were exploited on social media. Throughout the hourslong event, parents who lost children to suicide silently held up pictures of their dead kids.”

“‘They’re responsible for many of the dangers our children face online,’ Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, who chairs the committee, said in opening remarks. ‘Their design choices, their failures to adequately invest in trust and safety, their constant pursuit of engagement and profit over basic safety have all put our kids and grandkids at risk.’”


“Zuckerberg stood, turned away from his microphone and the senators, and directly addressed the parents in the gallery.”

“‘I’m sorry for everything you have all been through. No one should go through the things that your families have suffered,’ he said, adding that Meta continues to invest and work on ‘industrywide efforts’ to protect children.”

“But time and time again, children’s advocates and parents have stressed that none of the companies are doing enough.”

The New York Times: Six takeaways from a contentious online child safety hearing.

Mike Isaac | January 31, 2024

“Evan Spiegel, chief executive of Snap, and Linda Yaccarino, who leads X, both agreed to support the Kids Online Safety Act, or K.O.S.A. The proposed law would require online services like social media networks, video game sites and messaging apps to take ‘reasonable measures’ to prevent harm — including online bullying, harassment, sexual exploitation, anorexia, self-harm and predatory marketing — to minors who use their platforms. Mr. Zuckerberg, Mr. Chew and Jason Citron, the chief executive of Discord, did not pledge their support, with some arguing that it was directionally helpful but contained some overly broad restrictions that may come into conflict with free speech issues.”

The Washington Post: Child safety hearing puts key internet law back in Congress’s crosshairs

Will Oremus | January 31, 2024

“But for once, the tech executives weren’t the only target of the lawmakers’ ire. From the start, senators of both parties focused their criticism on a law that Congress passed in 1996 — a law that paved the way for social media as we know it. That law, said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), ‘needs to change.’”


“Now, it is in Congress’s sights once again. Although the law still has its ardent defenders, including large swaths of the tech lobby, there were signs in Wednesday’s hearing that its bipartisan support may be eroding.”


“Section 230 has long had its critics in Washington. But they were once a vocal minority in Congress. Now that group increasingly includes people like Durbin and Graham, who lead powerful committees and were both members of Congress when Section 230 was passed.”

NBC News: Mark Zuckerberg apologizes to parents at online child safety hearing

Angela Yang | January 31, 2024

“Parents held up photos of their children as senators questioned the CEOs. Many also wore blue ribbons that read ‘STOP Online Harms! Pass KOSA!’ referring to the Kids Online Safety Act, which would create a duty of care for social media companies.”

“Some of the parents audibly hissed when Zuckerberg entered the hearing room Wednesday. He has faced intense scrutiny and criticism over the years around child safety issues on Meta's platforms.”

CBS News: Mark Zuckerberg accused of having “blood on his hands” in fiery Senate hearing on internet child safety

Kate Gibson | January 31, 2024

“Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and four other leaders of social media companies were reprimanded by lawmakers in a congressional hearing on Wednesday for not doing enough to safeguard kids online.”

“The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing opened with videos of people describing being sexually exploited on Facebook, Instagram and X, with Sen. Lindsey Graham telling Zuckerberg he had ‘blood on his hands.’”

“‘You have a product that's killing people,’ said Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, drawing applause and cheers from many of those attending the crowded hearing.”

“The committee's chair, Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin, also bashed the social media platforms for failing to protect children from being sexually exploited online.”


“The Meta leader repeatedly refuted a link between Facebook and teen mental health, saying ‘it's important to look at the science, and the bulk does not support that.’ Later, in speaking on the same topic, Zuckerberg said ‘it doesn't mean individual people don't have issues.’”


“A growing number of lawmakers are urging measures to curb the spread of child sexual abuse images online and to make the tech platforms accountable for better safeguarding children. Wednesday's session is part of an effort to pass legislation after years of inaction by Congress in regulating social media companies.”

“Spiegel told the hearing he backs a federal bill to create a legal liability for apps and social platforms that recommend harmful content to minors. “

“Yaccarino also voiced support for the Stop CSAM Act, which would pave the way for victims of child exploitation to sue technology companies.”

Reuters: Tech CEOs told ‘you have blood on your hands’ at US Senate child safety hearing

David Shepardson & Makini Brice | January 31, 2024

“X, formerly Twitter, has come under heavy criticism since Elon Musk bought the service and loosened moderation policies. This week, it blocked searches for pop singer Taylor Swift after fake sexually explicit images of her spread on the platform.”

“Wednesday also marked the first appearance by TikTok CEO Chew before U.S. lawmakers since March, when the Chinese-owned short video app company faced harsh questions, including some suggesting the app was damaging children's mental health.”

“Chew disclosed more than 170 million Americans used TikTok monthly, 20 million more than the company said last year.”

“Under questioning by Graham, he said TikTok would spend more than $2 billion on trust and safety efforts, but declined to say how the figure compared to the company's overall revenue.”

The Guardian: Zuckerberg tells parents of social media victims at Senate hearing: ‘I’m sorry for everything you’ve been through’

Kari Paul | January 31, 2024

“In a stunning moment during a congressional hearing over alleged online harms to children, the Meta CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, turned to parents of victims on the Senate floor and apologized.”

“‘I’m sorry for everything you have all been through,’ Zuckerberg said as parents held up photos of their children who have died following sexual exploitation or harassment via social media. ‘No one should go through the things that your families have suffered and this is why we invest so much and we are going to continue doing industry-wide efforts to make sure no one has to go through the things your families have had to suffer.’”

“The Snap Inc CEO, Evan Spiegel, offered similar condolences to parents whose children were able to access illegal drugs on Snapchat. Parents of more than 60 teenagers filed suit in late 2023 against Snap for allegedly facilitating their children’s acquisitions of drugs that were used in overdoses.”

“‘I’m so sorry that we have not been able to prevent these tragedies. We work very hard to block all search terms related to drugs on our platform,’ Spiegel said.”

Rolling Stone: Parents Heckle Mark Zuckerberg at Child Exploitation Hearing

Nikki McCann Ramirez | January 31, 2024

“Parents holding photos of their deceased children, many of whom died by suicide, audibly hissed at Zuckerberg as he entered the chamber. According to NBC News, some of the family members who attended the hearing hold Meta’s subsidiary, Instagram, responsible for facilitating the abuse and suicide of their children.”


“The committee has authored a package of legislation aimed at improving resources and protections for victims of child sexual abuse and curbing the spread of child sexual abuse material (CSAM). Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has authored the STOP CSAM Act, which would grant victims the right to bring civil litigation against social media companies if their platforms were used to facilitate abuse and exploitation. A separate bill, the EARN IT Act, would dissolve protections from liability granted to tech platforms.”

National Review: ‘You Have Blood on Your Hands’: Bipartisan Senators Rip into Big Tech CEOs for Failing to Stop Child Exploitation  

Kayla Bartsch | January 31, 2024

“Senators on both sides of the aisle confronted Big Tech CEOs with evidence that their platforms facilitate the exploitation of children during a Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday morning, and chastised them for resisting legislation designed to address the malign effects of social media.”


Senator Richard Durbin (D., Ill.), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee began the hearing by playing a video montage featuring parents displaying photos of children they lost to suicide due to abuse on social media and testimony from survivors of child exploitation.

Senator Lindsey Graham included in his opening statement a particularly galling account of a South Carolina boy who committed suicide after Nigerian scammers he encountered on Instagram tricked him into sending nude photographs of himself and then used the photos to extort money from him.


“Graham and his colleagues repeatedly pointed out that, despite their political differences, the members of the Judiciary Committee had come together to pass five pieces of legislation designed protect children on social media — and scolded the executives for lobbying against those bills. He emphasized that the best way to address the harm caused by social media would be to reform Section 230, which provides liability protection for online platforms, to allow parents to sue the companies for harm caused to their children.”


“In response to the haranguing by lawmakers, the gathered executives touted the features of their platforms that aim to prevent child sexual exploitation, largely age-verification requirements, parental approval tools, and content-flagging tools.”

“The senators were unmoved.”

“‘How’s that going for you,’ Senator Mike Lee asked after Zuckerberg insisted that Meta platforms do not allow the posting of explicit material, prompting laughter from the audience.”

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