In today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, senators pressed CEOs from five major social media companies — Meta, TikTok, X, Snap, and Discord — about their platforms’ efforts to protect children from sexual exploitation online.
Chair Dick Durbin (D-IL) expressed the committee’s bipartisan frustration that, if the platform’s current efforts “were working, we wouldn’t be here today.” Ranking Member Lindsey Graham (R-SC) noted “If you’re waiting for these guys to solve these problems, we’re gonna die waiting.” And Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) compared social media with the airline industry: “When a door flew off a Boeing 737 a few weeks ago, no one questioned the grounding of a fleet of 700 planes; why aren’t we taking the same decisive action” protecting kids online. The harms were so apparent that Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, was compelled to attempt an apology for his company’s inability to prevent harms to kids online.
Several of the witnesses expressed support for the Kids Online Safety Act, which directly addresses the harmful social media business model by placing the health and well-being of minor users over advertising revenue.
In response to the social media CEOs’ testimony, Issue One Founder and CEO Nick Penniman, Council for Responsible Social Media (CRSM) leadership, and advocates for reform issued the following statements calling on Congress to act swiftly to hold these platforms accountable:
Issue One Founder and CEO Nick Penniman: “For decades social media companies have operated with no guardrails. They have designed their products to be manipulative and addictive with zero legal accountability. They’ve been able to do this by spending millions obfuscating the truth. Our analysis of lobbying data shows that in just the past five years, the five companies testifying today spent over $125 million lobbying members of Congress. It’s time to start treating them as the global media mega-companies they are, and regulate them accordingly.”
CRSM Director Alix Fraser: “Today’s hearing once again confirmed that in the absence of responsible safeguards, social media companies will consistently choose to maximize profits at all costs — robbing children of their social skills, human relationships, and childhood innocence, while leaving countless parents with broken families. It doesn’t have to be this way. There is a different world where social media helps connect, rather than divide, people; there is a version of social media that helps children find community and express creativity, without keeping them addicted and feeding them massive amounts of dangerous content by design. Congress should finally pass legislation like the Kids Online Safety Act and require social media companies to help keep our kids safe from addictive and manipulative content.”
Mom and social media reform advocate Kristin Bride: “Parents have had enough. Enough of the broken promises, enough of the hearings, enough of unaccountable social media companies who are running an experiment on our children. It’s time for action. It’s time for Congress to stand up to these tech giants and demand that they finally start putting people over profits.”
Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen: “The tech CEOs who testified today purport to take user safety seriously, but behind the scenes they’re actively deploying an army of lobbyists to kill any bill that would mandate stronger tools and safety measures to protect young users. These companies are desperate to keep children engaged and addicted so they can increase revenue at the expense of our youth’s mental health and well-being. Congress must not be fooled. We need responsible safeguards now.”
Former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-MO): “The social media companies know what they’re doing, and they have blood on their hands. How many more parents will have to bury their children before Congress acts? How many more hearings will they schedule before members can vote on bipartisan legislation, like the Kids Online Safety Act, supported by an overwhelming majority of the public? We can’t wait any longer. Congress: It’s time to hold the platforms accountable.”
Preceding today’s hearing, new research from Issue One underscores how the top social media platforms — Meta, ByteDance, X, Snap, and Discord — have ramped up their lobbying efforts as federal lawmakers take aim at their products which prioritize profits before kids’ online safety. According to our findings, these social media giants combined to spend a staggering $30 million on lobbying in 2023 — an increase of 12% from what these five companies collectively spent on lobbying in 2022.