Lawmakers Slam Big Tech Over Child Safety

( Last Tuesday, the Senate Commerce subcommittee on consumer protection, product safety and data security held a hearing with tech executives from TikTok, Snapchat, and YouTube to discuss keeping children safe online.

The hearing lasted nearly four hours with lawmakers pressing the executives on how the apps have been misused to promote bullying, worsen eating disorders, and help teens buy dangerous drugs or engage in reckless behavior.

The Senators, led by Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal, expressed deep concern about the platforms’ ability to harm children’s self-image and contribute to other mental health issues among children.

In his opening remarks, Senator Blumenthal said social media companies claiming that they are distinct from Facebook isn’t a defense. Calling the situation a “crisis,” Blumenthal argued that parents cannot trust Big Tech with their children.

Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) accused Big Tech of preying on children and teens for profit. He called for “legislative solutions” to the problem.

Given how enormously popular Snapchat, TikTok, and YouTube are with teens, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle hammered these executives over how addictive these platforms have become.

Senator Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) asked the execs if the platforms are specifically designed to keep users engaged as long as possible.

TikTok vice president and head of public policy, Michael Beckerman, gave an evasive answer, saying the app sees itself as a form of entertainment much like television or movies. He claimed that the app has a responsibility to give parents “take a break” tools, whatever that means. Beckerman argued that “overall engagement” was more important to TikTok than how much time users spend on the app.

Both Snapchat’s Jennifer Stout and YouTube’s Leslie Miller were equally evasive in their answers.

Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) described for Stout an experiment his staff conducted where they created a Snapchat account for a 15-year-old. The account was subsequently “bombarded” with inappropriate material, including recommendations and tips unsuitable for underage children.

Stout said she was unfamiliar with what Lee described, saying the discover page in Snapchat is a “closed content platform.”

All three companies defended their efforts to protect children online, however, lawmakers argued that Big Tech companies, while talking the talk, rarely follow through with actual substantive changes to better protect children.