Skip to main content

Filed under:

Meta, TikTok, and other tech companies go to Congress: all the news

Looking to push through new online child safety laws, the Senate Judiciary Committee has summoned five tech CEOs to testify in front of Congress.

The committee has subpoenaed Linda Yaccarino of X, Shou Zi Chew of TikTok, Evan Spiegel of Snap, Mark Zuckerberg of Meta, and Jason Citron of Discord to answer questions on the topic of “Big Tech and the online child sexual exploitation crisis.” (You can click each of their names to open a PDF of their prepared testimony to the committee.) 

All the platforms in question have been accused of facilitating child exploitation, despite well-publicized pledges to crack down on abuse. But the proposed legislative solutions are controversial, too. The most prominent is the Kids Online Safety Act, which would create a legal “duty of care” toward underage users — but could also chill constitutionally protected speech.

  • The dominoes are falling: Snap, X, and Microsoft all support KOSA.

    Mashable’s Matt Binder pulls out a good note from today’s child safety hearing: X CEO Linda Yaccarino says she supports the Kids Online Safety Act, a bill that poses serious risks to online speech. Microsoft’s Brad Smith also came out in favor of KOSA yesterday, and Snap endorsed it prior to the hearing.

    Meta, Discord, and TikTok’s CEOs continued to hold off — saying they applauded KOSA’s goals but stopping short of supporting the bill.

  • TikTok’s CEO can’t catch a break from xenophobia in Congress

    The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on online child sexual exploitation
    Photo by Celal Gunes/Anadolu via Getty Images

    Today’s hearing on child safety was — mostly — an unusually focused affair. The Senate Judiciary Committee called up the CEOs of X, Meta, Snap, TikTok, and Discord and grilled them for four hours on the potential dangers their services posed for children. Many of the lawmakers emphasized emotional impact, playing to an audience filled with families who’d had kids targeted by predators or otherwise harmed online.

    But midway through the hearing, it was dragged off course by a predictable tangent: the fact that TikTok is owned by Chinese company ByteDance. And a meeting ostensibly about keeping kids safe dipped into a now-familiar attempt to make TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew answer questions utterly unrelated to the rest of the day.

    Read Article >
  • Watch Mark Zuckerberg’s apology to families at today’s social media hearing.

    Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) pressed Zuckerberg to apologize to families who attended the hearing, calling attention to kids who were targeted by predators online in a push to pass social media regulation. Meta spokesperson Andy Stone later posted the text of the apology, though it differs slightly from the audio — it sounds to us like Zuckerberg says “industry-leading,” not “industry-wide”:

    “I’m sorry for everything you have all been through. 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.”

    Here’s a clip of the moment below.

    Correction: The post originally didn’t note a discrepancy between Stone’s text and Zuckerberg’s audio; that’s now been added.

  • The CEOs can take a deep breath.

    The hearing just came to a close. Durbin wrapped the discussion by telling Zuckerberg he doesn’t think his opening statement about the positive mental health impacts of social media makes any sense. Durbin said social media’s negative impact on kids is evident to all parents.

    Graham added that he hopes “something positive” will come from the hearing. Some of the senators are holding press conferences to follow up — I’m headed to one now.

  • “Senator, that’s ridiculous.”

    Zuckerberg objects to Marsha Blackburn’s characterization of Meta after the Tennessee Republican suggested Meta wants to be the “premier sex trafficking site.” Zuckerberg immediately disputed that claim, saying, “of course not, senator.”

  • “I’m worth more than $270.”

    Young advocates stood in the back of the hearing room with shirts that read “I’m worth more than $270” — part of the overall outsized crowd presence at this event. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) pointed to this group as she referenced the new set of internal Meta emails she and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) released. In the internal documents, Blackburn said, Meta executives described the lifetime value of teens on their services being roughy $270 each.

    Young advocates stand with shirts that say “I’m worth more than $270.”
    Young advocates stand with shirts that say “I’m worth more than $270.”
  • How big is each company’s content moderation workforce?

    Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) pushed for hard numbers. Here are the replies he got.

    Meta: “40,000”
    X: “2,300”
    TikTok: “40,000”
    Snap: “approximately 2,000”
    Discord: “hundreds”

  • Butler accuses Zuckerberg of giving her a different response in private and in public.

    After the hearing resumed following a short break, Sen. Laphonza Butler (D-CA) accused Zuckerberg of giving her a different answer in private last night and at the hearing today. Butler asked each CEO if they had consulted with families about their product designs. Zuckerberg said at the hearing that he has over the years had such conversations. Butler said that contradicted what he previously told her.

    “I must have misspoke,” Zuckerberg said of his private response.

  • “Every year, we have an annual flogging.”

    Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) points out that social media hearings have been happening for years with little progress. He raises the question of whether tech companies have a “secret sauce” that would let them “secure their platforms” and says companies should take regulation more seriously — “we could regulate you out of business” otherwise, he warns.

  • We’re on a quick break.

    The Senate has paused before its second big round of questioners, so the CEOs get a few minutes’ rest — and so do we.

  • As I’m watching this hearing, it’s surprising to see which companies aren’t testifying.

    I find it particularly glaring that the committee didn’t subpoena the CEOs of Roblox and YouTube for a hearing about kids safety online, given that both of those services are wildly popular with young people and have dealt with their fair share of moderation failures.

    If I had to guess, Roblox probably has more pre-teen users than X and Discord combined, and YouTube even has a separate app for kids. Why aren’t either of those companies here?

  • Hawley asks Zuckerberg if he’d like to apologize to the victims in the room.

    “Have you apologized to the victims?” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) asked Zuckerberg, referring to children targeted by predators on social media. Before he could answer, several members of the audience shouted “no.”

    Hawley asked if Zuckerberg would like to apologize now to the families of kids harmed by social media who were in the room. At that point, many of the advocates who stood with pictures of kids before the hearing once again rose — as Zuckerberg stood and turned back to issue an apology.

    Advocates stand with photos of kids after Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) asks Zuckerberg if he’d like to apologize to the families of victims of social media harm.
    Advocates stand with photos of kids after Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) asks Zuckerberg if he’d like to apologize to the families of victims of social media harm.
  • Zuckerberg’s experience in Congress shows through in a testy exchange with Ted Cruz.

    Zuckerberg sparred with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) over a feature on Instagram that warns users that something they’re looking for contains child sexual abuse material. As The Wall Street Journal reported last year, the feature includes an option for the user to “See results anyway” below a link to resources. Cruz grilled Zuckerberg on why the service would include such an option, which the CEO said is because the warnings can in some cases be wrong.

    Zuckerberg’s now-vast experience appearing before angry lawmakers on Capitol Hill was apparent in his responses to Cruz. As the senator continued to hammer him with questions, Zuckerberg at one point asked, “do you want me to answer your questions?” And then said, “can you give me some time to speak then?”

  • Read the 90 pages of newly released Meta emails about child safety.

    The partially redacted messages were posted on Sen. Blumenthal’s site this morning, and you can check them out in PDF form here. The emails, from 2021, show Mark Zuckerberg turning down some proposals to spend more on child safety — they’re being cited as examples that Meta isn’t committed to fixing problems with child exploitation.

  • The hearing so far: not much KOSA talk, lots of Section 230-bashing.

    Taking the temperature of the hearing, the big theme is that users need to be able to sue tech companies when they screw up, not any specific changes tech companies should be required to make.

    On one hand it’s a theme tailored to the audience, which is full of frustrated parents who want direct action. On the other, it doesn’t directly address how to tackle any of the underlying problems, beyond assuming that the companies will be quickly solve them if they’re motivated.

  • “Let the record reflect a yawning silence.”

    Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) asked if any of the CEOs supported the Platform Accountability and Transparency Act, which was reintroduced last year — here’s a quick rundown of the bill. As Coons noted, nobody jumped up to say yes.

    So far, individual companies support individual bills, like Snap’s support for KOSA — but across the board, most of the witnesses are saying they want more discussion.

  • Zuckerberg says there is still “no plan” to release a kids version of Instagram.

    This was in response to Senator Amy Klobuchar reading a series of internal Meta employee discussions about building products for “tweens” and kids over the years.

    To my knowledge, Meta has never said anything publicly on this since shelving the project in 2021, so it’s noteworthy that Zuckerberg is now saying there is still no plan to release it. That’s not because folks inside Meta don’t want to have an Instagram for kids, as I’ve been told by sources, but because the company has (rightfully) come to the conclusion that doing so isn’t worth the backlash.

  • TikTok gets its first China question.

    Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) brings up the fact that Chew’s company is owned by ByteDance and asks what happened to older American data collected prior to TikTok walling it off from China. Chew says TikTok has “never provided” any data to the Chinese government and is in the process of verifying all the data was deleted from non-US storage.

  • Mia Sato

    Jan 31

    Mia Sato

    The average TikTok user is over 30 years old.

    What started as a kid’s dancing app has changed significantly in recent years. At a Senate hearing on child safety happening now, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew said the average user on the platform is well into adulthood.

    Chew is among the group of tech executives testifying today. Read his full opening statement below.

  • “Until these people can be sued ... it is all talk.”

    Lindsey Graham is going hard on rolling back Section 230, repeating over and over that tech companies “can’t be sued.” (They can, just not for the sole reason that somebody posted illegal third-party content.) He’s pushing particularly hard on Jason Citron today, urging him to support bills like the EARN IT Act — Citron declines to do so.

  • CEOs tell lawmakers why their platforms shouldn’t be grouped with all the others.

    In their opening statements, the CEOs made their cases to lawmakers for why their platforms shouldn’t be lumped together with the others at the witness table.

    X’s Yaccarino said that her platform “is not the platform of choice for children and teens. We do not have a line of business dedicated to children.” Discord’s Citron pointed to how his messaging service “differs from traditional social media” because it does not have a news feed and doesn’t sell advertising. And Chew pointed out that TikTok “was among the first to empower parents to supervise their teens on our app with our Family Pairing tools.”

  • Linda Yaccarino got off to an awkward start.

    She started her opening speech, then restarted after the committee asked if her mic was on. Now she’s doing the opposite of Citron: telling us virtually no teens are on X. “Less than 1 percent of X’s users are between 13 and 17,” she says.

    This unfortunately doesn’t mean there’s not child abuse material being posted there — so Yaccarino is focusing on efforts to take that down, saying X suspended 12.4 million accounts for violating the policies in 2023, up from 2.3 million accounts removed in 2022 under Twitter’s old ownership.

  • Oh boy, we’re getting a TikTok feature rundown.

    Most of the speeches so far have focused on broad commitments to protecting kids, but Shou Zi Chew is just straight-up listing all the features TikTok uses for safety. As previously reported, Chew also says TikTok plans to invest $2 billion in trust and safety this year, much of it in the US specifically.

  • It’s Snap’s turn in the hot seat.

    Every company here is facing a unique situation, and Snap’s involves its disappearing messages feature, which has come under fire in court. Snap also recently came out in favor of KOSA. Evan Spiegel’s speech promises Snap will “be part of the solution” to online safety.

  • Lawmakers are met with applause, laughter as they call for crackdown on tech companies.

    The audience in the hearing room is unusually responsive as far as congressional hearings go. Opening statements were met with applause and supportive laughter in response to their admonishment of the tech CEOs and calls for stronger safeguards for kids online. It’s the kind of call and response that is more often heard in political debates, rather than during the lawmaking process.

    Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee sit at the front of the hearing room, prepared to grill tech CEOs on how they protect kids on their platforms.
    Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee prepare to grill tech CEOs on how they protect kids on their platforms.
    Lauren Feiner