'You have blood on your hands!' 5 Big Tech CEOs Grilled by Senate for Child Exploitation
Major tech CEOs were in the hot seat during the recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Senators confronted them over the alarming dangers targeting children online. We saw anger, apologies, and a crowd of parents holding photos of their exploited children. Senator Lindsey Graham accused Mark Zuckerberg: “You have blood on your hands,” and the audience erupted in applause.
As legislators push for accountability through proposed bills, the CEOs of prominent platforms faced tough questions regarding their efforts to safeguard young users.
*Be sure to watch the video at the end of this article where Lina from the National Center on Sexual Exploitation highlights key moments and breaks down the many excuses and lies told in this hearing.
Why tech CEOs were called to testify
Tech CEOs were summoned to address the escalating crisis of online harms and anguish inflicted on children through their platforms. Despite efforts in content moderation, harmful content remains a pervasive and distressing problem leading to child trafficking, sextortion, and even suicide.
Who was called to testify
- Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta
- Shou Zi Chew, CEO of TikTok
- Linda Yaccarino*, CEO of X
- Evan Spiegel*, CEO of Snap
- Jason Citron*, CEO of Discord
*These latter three were compelled to come by subpoena after ignoring initial requests from the Senate.
Social media suffering highlighted
The senators and tech giants elaborated on the trauma occurring on these platforms. The following are a few that were discussed.
- Discord's allowance of pornography on its platform raised concerns about minors' exposure to online sexual interactions.
- Instagram's promotion of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) underscored the urgent need for enhanced content moderation measures.
- Instagram's algorithm helped pedophiles seeking CSAM find young victims.
Statistics revealed the dangers
- Zuckerberg testified that they have sent more than 26 million reports of CSAM to the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), surpassing the rest of the industry combined.
- Discord revealed that 17% of minors have had online sexual interactions, with 10% involving interactions with adults.
- X reported removing nearly a million posts related to mental health and self-harm in 2023.
- Senator Klobuchar referenced the FBI Director’s testimony that over 20 suicides of kids attributed to online revenge porn in the past year.
- Klobuchar quoted the head of the DEA who said social media platforms have been captured by cartels in Mexico and China for drug distribution.
- X reported they made 850k reports of child sexual exploitation (CSE) to NCMEC in 2022.
- Snap's CEO reported making 690K reports to NCMEC, leading to over 1,000 arrests, and removing 2.2 million pieces of drug-related content.
- X suspended 12.4 million accounts for violating CSE policies in 2022.
The tech CEOs shared these statistics in an effort to show how proactive they are at removing harmful content and accounts from their platforms and reporting cases of child sexual exploitation to NCMEC. While these efforts are commendable, these statistics demonstrate the sheer volume of CSAM that exists on social media.
Bills headed to the senate floor
The following proposed bills come as a response to the failure of tech companies to adequately self-regulate, prompting calls from senators and parents alike for legal action to end the protections provided by Section 230. These measures aim to hold tech platforms accountable for the damage inflicted on users, particularly children. Notably, the Stop CSAM Act allows victims of CSAM to sue platforms, signaling a significant shift in accountability as their immunity under Section 230 would be revoked.
- Stop CSAM Act: Mandates child abuse reporting, enhances protections for child victims, and allows victims to sue platforms.
- EARN IT Act: Establishes a dedicated team to prevent online child exploitation and creates incentives for the tech industry to address online child sexual exploitation.
- SHIELD Act: Equips law enforcement with the tools they need to address privacy violations and establishes federal criminal liability for sharing explicit images.
- Project Safe Childhood Act: Modernizes the investigation and prosecution of online child exploitation crimes, enhancing collaboration between federal prosecutors and law enforcement.
- REPORT Act: Empowers victims to report CSAM to NCMEC, enables the use of modern technology to store and transfer CSAM, requires online platforms to report child sex trafficking, and supports law enforcement by extending content retention periods.
Challenges for parents
Big Tech wants to regulate themselves rather than have laws in place that make them liable. However, this current model has placed an inordinate burden on parents to protect their kids online. Senator Klobuchar shared an analogy that one mother related trying to keep up with tech and parental controls,
“It's like a faucet overflowing in a sink and she's out there with a mop while her kids are getting addicted to more and more different apps and being exposed to [harmful] material.”
The complexity and scale of online harms make it nearly impossible for parents to keep up. Klobuchar said,
“We've got to make this simpler for parents to protect their kids. The answer is to open up the halls of the courtroom and to put it on you guys.”
We absolutely agree!
Meta's Targeting of Tweens
Despite age restrictions, social media platforms like Meta have capitalized on ad revenue directed towards children and teenagers, including nearly $2 billion in profits from users aged 12 and under. This despite Meta’s age requirements of 13 and up to use their platforms. Citron emphasized that no one under 13 should be on Discord, acknowledging the risks posed to younger users. However, many users under 13 use Discord. It’s not hard to enter a fake birthday.
Hope for a safer tomorrow
The recent hearing shed national light on the dangers lurking in the digital world for our children. Here at Defend Young Minds, we stand firm in our recommendation that social media should be off-limits until at least age 16. The eye-opening revelations from the hearing only reinforce our stance.
We are watching closely to see how these bills will make their way through the Senate and House and are grateful for the many involved in paving the way for the safety and well-being of our most precious ones—our children.
What you CAN DO
Sadly the onus is still on parents to keep kids safe online. While we know it’s a lot of work, we are here to make it easier. Here are some tools for you:
- Good Pictures Bad Pictures read-aloud books. (We’ve seen a huge spike in sales since the Senate hearing!) The Jr. edition is for 3 to 7 and the original edition is for kids 7 to 12. Help your kids to install an INTERNAL filter!
- Is My Child Ready for a Smartphone is a free guide that answers ten simple questions guiding parents in this choice.
- The Digital Safety Planner is another free guide that offers practical advice on filters & parental controls, how to supervise online activity, and tips for starting important conversations.
- Tackle the Tech! We have many articles for parents packed with information and tips on kid-safe phones, filters, parental controls, and much more. Find them here.
Good Pictures Bad Pictures
"I really like the no-shame approach the author takes. It's so much more than just 'don't watch or look at porn.' It gave my children a real understanding about the brain and its natural response to pornography, how it can affect you if you look at it, and how to be prepared when you do come across it (since, let's face it... it's gonna happen at some point)." -Amazon Review by D.O.