The momentum for protecting children online is surging!
Today, January 31, 2024, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard from the CEOs of Meta (formerly Facebook), X (formerly Twitter), TikTok, Snap, and Discord regarding the rampant child sexual exploitation occurring on and facilitated by their platforms. NCOSE assisted the Senate Judiciary Committee in preparing for this hearing, hosted an online issue briefing the day before, and is rallying people to take action, demanding Congress pass legislation to hold these tech companies accountable.
Reality of the January 31st Hearing: BigTech Will Not prioritize the safety of children when using their platforms.— National Center on Sexual Exploitation (@NCOSE) February 2, 2024
WATCH: “Big Tech BS with Lina” as she highlights some key moments and breaks down the many excuses, lies, and the #BigTechBS that CEOs delivered in this hearing. pic.twitter.com/sgtJD2bmtd
The time for change is NOW.
Children have literally died because of these social media platforms. At the opening of the hearing, parents held up pictures of children whose lives ended after being sexually exploited online. As Senator Graham stated to the Big Tech CEOs, “You have blood on your hands. You have a product that’s killing people.”
Together with parents, survivors, and child safety advocates around the world, we are saying No More Excuses! It is long past time for Big Tech to be held accountable and be forced to prioritize the safety of children.
Big Tech CEOs Try to Dodge Legal Accountability
At the Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing, multiple Senators rightly pointed out, the only solution that will lead to real change is to remove the blanket immunity tech companies currently enjoy under the law and allow them to be sued for the harms that happen on their platform. As Senator Graham said, “Nothing will change until the courtroom door is open to victims of social media.”
This is why NCOSE is working hard to support several bills that would allow tech companies to be held accountable for the harms they’re causing to children.
Yet when asked, the Big Tech CEOs failed to support these legislative solutions. For example, when the CEO of Discord was asked if he supported several child protection bills that are currently before Congress, such as the EARN IT Act, the STOP CSAM Act, and the SHIELD Act, and he responded to each one that Discord is “not prepared to support it today.”
Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta (formerly Facebook), also explained that his company does not support the STOP CSAM Act and EARN IT Act, but instead has their “own legislative proposals” to help “give parents control” … This is a classic Big Tech move of dodging responsibility by pushing the burden on overwhelmed parents in what is an almost unwinnable battle to keep kids safe. What about children who don’t have the privilege of highly involved, tech savvy parents—the children who are most at risk of exploitation to begin with? Further, with Meta recently rolling out end-to-end encryption as the new default for minor accounts, they made it more difficult to detect child sexual abuse; parental controls will literally not work in these situations.
Big Tech’s Misleading Statements About their Safety Features
During the hearing, the Big Tech CEOs made many misleading statements about their company’s safety features.
Discord’s CEO bragged about their “teen safety assist” feature, which he claimed is currently “on by default”—but NCOSE tested this feature and found that it was not yet fully implemented and neither is blurring sexually explicit images by default, despite this being promised over two months ago.
Snapchat touted their Parent Center—yet only 2% of teens are connected and the protection tools, like filtering out sexually inappropriate content, are not even available to teens if they are not connected to an adult.
Zuckerberg claimed “we used industry standards to detect [predatory content]”—but in reality, Meta has never proactively monitored direct messaging for grooming behavior. They only monitor after reports of grooming have been made.
Meanwhile, the CEOs make excuses for abhorrent failures and loopholes in their safety systems. For example, Zuckerberg tried to excuse away Meta’s outrageous decision to include an option to “see results anyway” when users were notified that their search may contain images of child sexual abuse.
NCOSE Briefing Corrects Big Tech’s Lies About Needs of LGBTQ Youth
The day before the Senate Judiciary Hearing, NCOSE held an issue briefing to correct some of Big Tech’s most dangerous lies about efforts to protect children online. Almost seven hundred people registered for the briefing, and attendees included staff from Capitol Hill and major media outlets.
The hearing had a special focus on the needs of LGBTQ+ youth, as this population is disproportionately victimized online—both in cases of sexual exploitation and other harms, such as content promoting eating disorders or drugs. Confusingly, Big Tech often claims that legislative efforts to protect children online would be detrimental to LGBTQ+ youth, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. In reality, LGBTQ+ youth are among those most in need of the protections proposed by these bills.
As Survivor Leader Aaron Crowley says, “Because we are often ostracized by our families and our in-person communities, many LGBT youth turn to online spaces, online communities, for safe spaces. But since there aren’t any safeguards, this leaves LGBT kids more vulnerable to cyberbullying, exploitation, blackmail, being outed, and being exposed to explicit material.”
You can learn more by watching the full briefing below.
ACTION: Urge Congress to Pass Legislation Holding Tech Companies Accountable!
Big Tech has shown time and again that they will not make substantive changes to protect children online on their own. Congress must step in! We MUST pass legislation to hold tech companies accountable to prioritizing safety!
Key Media Pieces
The Senate Judiciary hearing with the Big Tech CEOs garnered much attention from the press! Here are some key media pieces for your interest:
- The Wall Street Journal: ‘You Have Blood on Your Hands’: Senators Say Tech Platforms Hurt Children
- The Hill: Congress must force Big Tech to protect children from online predators
- Fox News Channel: Big Tech faces brutal questioning on Capitol Hill over content harming kids
- TechCrunch: CEOs from Meta, TikTok, Snap, X and Discord head to Congress for kids’ online safety hearing
- The Washington Examiner: Critics dismiss new Big Tech child protection concessions ahead of hearing with CEOs