UPDATED 11:56 AM PT – Wednesday, October 27, 2021
Big Tech companies are in the hot seat for kids’ online safety. Youth is a captive audience, which has put a harsh spotlight on social media platforms.
During a hearing on Tuesday, lawmakers held talks with executives from TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube, to discuss the dangers of children’s safety online. The hearing comes amid an ongoing battle with Big Tech, which is something Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) has called a “crisis.”
“You can’t trust Big Tech with your kids. Parents of America can’t trust these apps with their children,” stressed Blumenthal.
The time for platitudes & bromides is over. Expressions of vague intentions to do the right thing will no longer suffice. There needs to be accountability for Big Tech. pic.twitter.com/yDaVDSHJcO
— Richard Blumenthal (@SenBlumenthal) October 27, 2021
Utah Sen. Mike Lee (R) grilled Snapchat over an experiment where his staff created an account for a 15-year-old and were “bombarded” with inappropriate material, despite not selecting any content preferences.
“When they opened the discover page on Snapchat with its default settings, they were immediately bombarded with content that I can most politely describe as wildly inappropriate for a child, including recommendations for, among other things, an invite to play an online sexualized video game that’s marketed itself to people who are 18 and up, tips on, ‘why you shouldn’t go to bars alone’, notices for video games that are rated for ages 17 and up and articles about porn stars,” Lee stated.
The Snapchat executive appeared confused, saying the discover page is a “closed content platform” and that she was “unfamiliar” with what Lee described. Additionally, while all three companies defended how they protect kids online, lawmakers still felt as though the Big Tech companies were just talk with no real change.
Big Tech must not go unchecked. pic.twitter.com/UMpkocZ68r
— Sen. Marsha Blackburn (@MarshaBlackburn) October 26, 2021
“For too long we have allowed platforms to promote and glorify dangerous content for its kid and teen users,” said Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.). “In the weeks leading up to this hearing, I’ve heard from parents, from teachers, from mental health professionals who are all wondering the same thing: ‘How long are we going to let this continue’?”
Blackburn asked what it would take for platforms to finally crackdown on the illicit drugs, the eating disorder content and the child sexual abuse material.
Meanwhile, Blumenthal said they need real transparency, accountability and a market where the competition is to protect children, not to exploit them. He added the goal is not to shut down the tech companies, but rather to improve them and make them better.