ceos-of-meta,-x,-discord,-tiktok-and-snap-testify-before-the-senate-judiciary-committee

CEOs of Meta, X, Discord, TikTok and Snap testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee

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Zuckerberg apologizes to families during Senate hearing

02:02 – Source: CNN

  • What happened: The Senate Judiciary Committee grilled the chief executives of five big tech companies, including Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, about potential harms from their products on teens.
  • Zuckerberg apologized: Zuckerberg stood to apologize to the families in the hearing room, saying: “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.”
  • What safety advocates are saying: With growing claims that social media can hurt young users, including worries that it risks driving them to depression or even suicide, some online safety advocates at the hearing said the apologies from tech executives fell far short.

Our coverage of the hearing has wrapped. For more on what we learned, click here.

Bridgette Norring, a mother whose son died from an accidental fentanyl overdose after ordering a pill off of Snapchat, slammed the apology she received today from Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel as “fake.”

When asked what was going through her mind as she listened to the tech CEOs defend themselves, Norring said that it was “very frustrating to sit and listen to them.”

Norring appeared on CNN News Central shortly after the hearing concluded alongside Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota. She held a picture of her son, Devin Norring, as she spoke, with the emotion apparent in her voice.

Klobuchar was visibly shaken during the hearing, calling for lawmakers to finally enact change after what she said was decades of inaction on legislation aimed at reeling in social media companies.

“I just want to get this stuff done, I’m so tired of this,” Klobuchar told CNN News Central. “It’s been 28 years, what since the internet? We haven’t passed any of these bills … it’s time to actually pass them.”

During Wednesday’s hearing, several lawmakers lamented the fact that it’s nearly impossible to successfully sue the social media giants to hold them accountable for problematic content on their platforms.

“I am tired of talking. I’m tired of having discussions,” South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said. “Open up the courthouse door. Until you do that, nothing will change. Until these people can be sued for the damage they’re doing, it is all talk.”

The reason it’s so hard to sue social media platforms is a 28-year-old federal law called “Section 230,” which holds that tech companies cannot be held liable for the content that users post to their platforms.

The statute has for years been criticized by both Republicans and Democrats. But tech companies and digital rights groups have defended as vital to a functioning internet.

On Wednesday, lawmakers called for the repeal of Section 230.

“It is now time to make sure that the people who are holding up the signs can sue on behalf of their loved ones. Nothing will change until the courtroom door is open to victims and social media,” Graham said.

Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ed Markey went after tech CEOs following Wednesday’s hearing, saying the executives had little to offer besides “excuses.”

“Their CEOs showed up today with even more excuses. It was outrageous,” Markey said.

Markey who pioneered the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, a 1998 law that bars the nonconsensual collection of data of kids under age 13, urged his congressional colleagues to pass an update to the law extending those protections to teens.

As he concluded his remarks and walked away, onlookers shouted after him urging Markey to support the Kids Online Safety Act, another hot-button bill backed by Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Marsha Blackburn.

In a press conference on the Capitol grounds, New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez described testimony by Zuckerberg and other tech CEOs as a “command performance” but said that parents can attest that the platforms “aren’t living up to their promises.”

Zuckerberg, he said, “needs to start acting like a parent. He has kids himself. He needs to start acting like that.”

Torrez filed a lawsuit against Meta in December, which accuses the company of creating a “breeding ground” for child predators.

Arturo Béjar, a Meta whistleblower who went public last year alleging Mark Zuckerberg ignored internal warnings about child safety, told CNN the company’s behavior in the hearing made clear Zuckerberg does not prioritize the issue.

Internal documents released by two US lawmakers today highlighted how Zuckerberg did not respond to senior executives’ warnings that inaction could create major risks for the company.

“The emails the Senate made available today, and his responses during testimony, show that Mark Zuckerberg and Meta do not care about the harm teens experience on their products,” Béjar said. “[Meta President of Global Affairs] Clegg writes about profound gaps with addiction, self-harm, bullying and harassment to Mark. Mark did not respond, and those gaps are unaddressed today … Children are not his priority.”

People held up photographs and placards during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

The families of people harmed by social media proved to be an immense force in Wednesday’s hearing.

Through applause, laughter at CEO testimony, hisses and moments of silence, the parents who say their children suffered or died as a result of social media served as a key foil. They drove tensions higher and in some cases appeared to fuel the attacks of lawmakers against the CEOs.

Congress has held many tech CEO hearings. But more than any other, the presence of so many parents in the room transformed the hearing and injected an unprecedented sense of urgency.

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen in 2022 during an Unfinished Live event at The Shed in New York City.

Craig Barritt/Getty Images

The Facebook whistleblower who kicked off years of scrutiny on the impact of social media on teens said Mark Zuckerberg’s apology to parents was “mindblowing.”

Today’s hearing would have been inconceivable just a handful of years ago, she said, when lawmakers were asking Zuckerberg basic questions about how his company makes money.

“Almost every hearing since has been substantially more meaningful, and they’ve asked more insightful questions, more relevant questions. This was four hours long, and there were maybe 20 minutes where I was like, ‘Do you really know what you’re asking?’ And that’s amazing.”

Asked about the potential for legislation to move forward, Haugen said she would be surprised if “we make it through another [electoral] cycle where we don’t see something.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s grilling of four social media executives produced some notable moments. Here are a few:

Zuckerberg, Spiegel personally apologize to families: Meta CEO Zuckerberg stood to apologize to the families in the hearing room. “I’m sorry for everything you have all been through,” he said. “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.”

Mark Zuckerberg spoke to victims and their family members as he testified during the US Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, “Big Tech and the Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis.”

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

Snap CEO Evan Spiegel also apologized to families whose children have died after they purchased drugs on Snapchat. “I’m so sorry that we have not been able to prevent these tragedies,” Spiegel said, before detailing some of the efforts the company takes to protect young users.

(L-R) Jason Citron, CEO of Discord, Evan Spiegel, CEO of Snap, Shou Zi Chew, CEO of TikTok, Linda Yaccarino, CEO of X during the hearing today.

Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

“The dark side” of social media products “is too great”: Social media companies have created products that have an upside, but they also have a dark side that is “too great to live with,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said Wednesday while grilling chief executives of four such companies. Until social media companies are sued for the damage they are doing, Graham warned that there will be no change.

Judiciary Committee Ranking Member U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) spoke during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on online child sexual exploitation at the U.S. Capitol today.

Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

Hating social media companies is a rare unifying force on Capitol Hill: Wednesday’s hearing again demonstrates the breadth of criticism for social media companies among lawmakers, a rare bipartisan topic on Capitol Hill. Despite both parties’ appetite for going after tech platforms, however, Congress has yet to pass meaningful legislation to regulate social media companies. Most of the action has taken place in state legislatures and in the courts, which have become battlegrounds for new policies including age minimums for social media.

(L-R) Jason Citron, CEO of Discord; Evan Spiegel, CEO of Snap; Shou Zi Chew, CEO of TikTok; Linda Yaccarino, CEO of X; and Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, watched a video of victims before testifying at the US Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

Read the full rundown of key hearing moments here.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has wrapped its hearing where lawmakers grilled four tech executives — Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg, TikTok’s Shou Chew, X’s Linda Yaccarino and Discord’s Jason Citron — on the online child sexual exploitation crisis.

Senator Marsha Blackburn speaking during the hearing today.

From U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary

Tennessee Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn confronted Zuckerberg on internal Meta documents suggesting that the company estimates the lifetime value of a teen user at $270.

“How could you possibly even have that thought? It is astounding to me,” Blackburn said, before recognizing a group of youth advocates in the audience and inviting them to stand.

When they did so, the advocates revealed that they were wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan, “I am worth more than $270.”

“Children are not your priority. Children are your product,” Blackburn told Zuckerberg in the tense exchange.

Audience members attending the US Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, “Big Tech and the Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis,” in Washington, DC, on January 31.

Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Senator John Kennedy during the US Senate Judiciary Committee hearing “Big Tech and the Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis” in Washington, DC, today.

From U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary

Louisiana Republican Sen. John Kennedy said Meta platforms have become a “killing field of information” where users “see only one side of an issue.”

Zuckerberg rejected this characterization of his business.

In this environment, Kennedy claimed, the platforms can become a “cesspool of snark.”

Asking if Facebook makes it clear to its users how their data is monetized by the platform, Kennedy said, “Does your user agreement still suck?”

This prompted some laughter in the room.

Zuckerberg said people get the basics of how social media works.

“You’re in the foothills of creepy. You track people who aren’t even Facebook users,” Kennedy said. “I just wonder if if our technology is greater than our humanity in the interest of this funnel.”

In conclusion, Kennedy told Zuckerberg, “If you think that Instagram is not hurting millions of our young people, particularly young teens, particularly young women, you shouldn’t be driving.”

Mark Zuckerberg, center, addresses the audience during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, DC, today.

Kent Nishimura/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Youth advocates in the room are pushing back on Mark Zuckerberg’s apology, saying talk is cheap and calling for the company to “step out of the way” of national regulation.

Arielle Geismar, 22, started using Instagram a decade ago and says she was directly affected by eating disorder content on the app.

During an interview on the sideline of the hearing, she accused Zuckerberg of downplaying a link between social media and mental health harms, and dismissed his claims that Meta and other platforms are working hard to create safe spaces for users.

“It feels disgusting to sit there and be lied to,” Geismar told CNN. “His words are less than a drop in the bucket … it is really, really nice for him to be able to say a few words and assuage everything, but it doesn’t bring back any human and it doesn’t take back the harm.”

Zamaan Qureshi, co-chair of the advocacy group Design It For Us, called Zuckerberg’s apology “a pretty insane moment” during an interview with CNN.

“I think it was pretty emotional for a lot of people in the room. You’re in here, you can kind of feel that tension right now. It certainly feels like there’s a tide turning in trying to get something done here.”

Co-founder and CEO of Snap Inc. Evan Spiegel during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on online child sexual exploitation at the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, today.

Nathan Howard/Reuters

In response to prompting from California Democrat Sen. Laphonza Butler, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel apologized to families whose children have died after they purchased drugs on Snapchat.

“I’m so sorry that we have not been able to prevent these tragedies,” Spiegel said, before detailing some of the efforts the company takes to protect young users, including proactively monitoring for drug-related content and working to educate teens and families about the dangers of fentanyl.

“I know that there are good efforts. None of those things are keeping kids from getting access to drugs on your platform,” Butler said in response.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, center, speaks as Snap CEO Evan Spiegel, left, and X CEO Linda Yaccarino, right, listen during the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on online child safety on Capitol Hill, today.

(AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

TikTok CEO Shou Chew was grilled several times on the company’s connection to China, via its parent company ByteDance, and the amount of access and influence the platform grants to the Chinese government.

In one instance, Chew told Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton that it was “a coincidence” that he was appointed CEO of the platform a day after the Chinese Communist Party’s China internet investment fund bought a 1% stake in ByteDance’s main Chinese subsidiary, getting a seat on the board of the subsidiary. Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley also questioned Chew about the company’s connections to China and its communist party.

In another instance, under questioning from Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, Chew described the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing as a “massive protest.” While Chew’s characterization of the event is accurate, it omits the subsequent bloody crackdown against pro-democracy activists by the Chinese government that today is heavily censored on the Chinese internet.

When later pressed about on his answer by Sen. Cotton, Chew said the event was also “a massacre.”

Chew has previously testified to Congress that TikTok allows content about Tiananmen Square on its platform. TikTok does not operate within China. But its parent company, ByteDance, distributes a substantially similar app known as Douyin.

From U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg stood to apologize to the families present at the Senate hearing, saying he was sorry for “the things that your families have suffered.”

“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 leading efforts to make sure no one has to go through the things your families have had to suffer,” he said.

In response, Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley called on Zuckerberg, as a billionaire, to “compensate” the families whose children have been affected by his platforms.

Here’s the moment:

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6a3a22f7-51f8-4249-9d89-5ec251fbaa5f.mp4

00:44 – Source: cnn

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) points a finger as he asks questions during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on online child sexual exploitation at the U.S. Capitol today.

Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz slammed Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg for loose practices on Instagram — a platformed owned by Meta — that don’t do much to protect children from explicit content.

He demonstrated an example of a warning screen that pops up when a user is searching for child abuse material, and noted that Instagram offers the user the choice between “get resources” or “see results anyway.”

The executive said this screen pops up across all searches that the platform may deem problematic, but the option to see results anyway is offered in case the platform’s algorithm is wrong. Cruz did not accept that answer.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, left, and Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, during a hearing in Washington, DC, US, on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024. Congress has increasingly scrutinized social media platforms as growing evidence suggests that excessive use and the proliferation of harmful content may be damaging young people’s mental health.

Kent Nishimura/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Social media companies have created products that have an upside, but they also have a dark side that is “too great to live with,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said Wednesday while grilling chief executives of four such companies.

Until social media companies are sued for the damage they are doing, Graham warned that there will be no change.

“I am tired of talking. I’m tired of having discussions,” he said. “Open up the courthouse door. Until you do that, nothing will change. Until these people can be sued for the damage they’re doing, it is all talk.”

He added, “I’m a Republican who believes in free enterprise, but I also believe that every American who’s been wronged has to have somebody to go to to complain. There is no commission to go to that can punish you. There’s not one law in the book because you oppose everything we do, and you can’t be sued. That has to stop, folks.”

Graham stressed on the importance of having legal framework to hold the companies accountable.

Multiple lawmakers highlighted the sharp contrast between the public response to social media harms and the recent incident involving a Boeing aircraft that saw a door plug blown off in mid-flight.

“One door flew off of one plane. No one was hurt,” said Delaware Democratic Sen. Chris Coons. “And yet the entire Boeing fleet, of that type of plane, was grounded and a federal fit-for-purpose agency did an immediate safety review.”

Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar also brought up the Boeing incident and broad support to ground the fleet. “So why aren’t we taking the same decisive action,” she asked, “when we know these kids are dying?”

Senator John Cornyn during the US Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, “Big Tech and the Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis,” in Washington, DC, today.

From U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary

Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn is once again raising fears about TikTok’s links to China through its parent company ByteDance, questioning CEO Shou Chew about his talks with US national security regulators.

The exchange is a reminder that although Wednesday’s hearing is focused on child safety, it is closely tied to how social media platforms handle US user data and the potential availability of that data to foreign adversaries if stored abroad.

TikTok has built a program named Project Texas to host US user data only on servers within the United States and overseen by US-based personnel. Critics, however, say they are skeptical that the program will completely eliminate the influence of ByteDance and the risks that US user data could end up in the hands of Beijing via ByteDance.

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, as he testifies today in Washington, DC before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the dangers of child sexual exploitation on social media.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Apple and Google, not social media companies, should be responsible for checking users’ ages to ensure they are not underage, Zuckerberg told lawmakers, suggesting it would be “trivial” for Congress to design legislation regulating app store owners.

“My understanding is Apple and Google, or at least Apple, already requires parental consent when a child does a payment with an app,” Zuckerberg said. “So it should be pretty trivial to pass a law that requires them to make it so that parents have control anytime a child downloads an app.”

Meta previously outlined that proposal in a framework for federal legislation released this month that the company says is an alternative to some of the bills lawmakers have drafted.

US Senator Amy Klobuchar speaking during the US Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, “Big Tech and the Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis,” in Washington, DC, today.

From U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary

Minnesota Democrat Sen. Amy Klobuchar appeared visibly upset as she recounted the stories of parents whose children were harmed by social media platforms, including young people who died by suicide after being threatened by predators online.

“I’m so tired of this,” Klobuchar said. “It’s been 28 years … since the start of the internet. We haven’t passed any of these bills, because everyone’s ‘double talk, double talk.’ It’s time to actually pass them.”

Klobuchar pressed the CEOs to endorse several proposed bills.

Snap CEO Evan Spiegel agreed to endorse the Cooper Davis Act, which would require platforms to report certain instances of illicit drug trafficking on their platforms to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, arrives as audience members hold photos of loved ones, before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today.

Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham again highlighted the story of South Carolina state house Rep. Brandon Guffey who discovered his son — who had died by suicide — had encountered a scammer on Instagram and unwittingly became a victim of sexual extortion.

Graham asked Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg if he had anything to say to him. Zuckerberg said, “That’s terrible. I mean, no one should have to go through something like that.”

The state lawmaker is now suing Meta for wrongful death, gross negligence and other claims, saying it does not do enough to protect children like Gavin from online predators.

Meta, which also owns Facebook, says in its statement to CNN that it has numerous tools to ensure teens are safe and support parents on its platforms.

Remember: Many tech companies have successfully nipped many content-related lawsuits in the bud by citing Section 230, a federal liability shield granting immunity to tech platforms for their content moderation decisions. Sen. Graham has also asked the executives today if they support scrapping Section 230.

Lawmakers have spent much of the hearing pressuring companies to support legislation that would rein them in. Progress on many of these bills has been elusive so far, however.

Even though many of the bills mentioned today enjoy broad bipartisan support, including the Stop CSAM Act and the Kids Online Safety Act, their pathway to passage is long. It falls to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to decide whether to bring some of these bills to the floor. House lawmakers, meanwhile, have struggled to advance even basic legislation amid GOP infighting and a focus on priorities such as government spending and immigration.

Discord CEO Jason Citron appeared to squirm under direct questioning by Sen. Lindsey Graham, who repeatedly pressed him to support multiple bills in Congress that would regulate social media platforms.

“We are not prepared to support that today,” Citron was forced to say several times, pausing at some moments to shuffle the papers in front of him. 

Jason Citron, CEO of Discord; Evan Spiegel, CEO of Snap; Shou Zi Chew, CEO of TikTok; Linda Yaccarino, CEO of X; and Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta,testifies during the US Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, “Big Tech and the Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis,” in Washington, DC, today.

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

Most of the CEOs testifying Wednesday highlighted to lawmakers that they are parents themselves as they tried to demonstrate they care deeply about child safety on their platforms.

Snap CEO Evan Spiegel said his wife “approves every app that our 13 year old downloads.” TikTok CEO Shou Chew said that he is “a father of three young children myself.” X CEO Linda Yaccarino told lawmakers she is a mother. And Discord CEO Jason Citron said: “I’m a dad with two kids. I want Discord to be a product that they use and love and I want them to be safe.”

Zuckerberg, who has multiple children, did not appear to mention his role as a father.

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta(L), Linda Yaccarino, CEO of X(2L), Shou Zi Chew, CEO of TikTok(C), Evan Spiegel, CEO of Snap(2R) and Jason Citron, CEO of Discord (R) are sworn in before giving testimony at the beginning of a full committee hearing on “Big Tech and the Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis” at the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on January 31.

Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images

Wednesday’s hearing again demonstrates the breadth of criticism for social media companies among lawmakers, a rare bipartisan topic on Capitol Hill.

“Elizabeth and I see an abuse here that needs to be dealt with. Sen. Durbin and I have different political philosophies, but I appreciate what you’ve done on this committee. You’ve been a great partner. To all my Democratic colleagues, thank you very, very much. To my Republican colleagues, thank you all very, very much,” Sen. Graham said.

Despite both parties’ appetite for going after tech platforms, however, Congress has yet to pass meaningful legislation to regulate social media companies.

Most of the action has taken place in state legislatures and in the courts, which have become battlegrounds for new policies including age minimums for social media.

Shou Zi Chew (C), CEO of TikTok, sits next to Linda Yaccarino (R), CEO of X, as they testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on January 31, 2024 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony from the heads of the largest tech firms on the dangers of child sexual exploitation on social media.

Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

TikTok plans to invest $2 billion in trust and safety efforts in 2024, CEO Shou Chew said in his opening remarks Wednesday. He added that much of that investment would be focused on the United States market.

Chew added that the company has more than 40,000 trust and safety workers worldwide.

Jason Citron, CEO of Discord, testifies during the US Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, “Big Tech and the Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis,” in Washington, DC, on January 31.

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

Discord CEO Jason Citron said his company’s voice and text messaging platform does not scramble user messages, meaning that the company and law enforcement can read every message sent on the service.

“That is a choice we made,” Citron said, outlining a policy the company has not previously publicly disclosed. “We don’t believe we can fulfill our safety obligations if the text messages of teens are fully encrypted, because encryption would block our ability to investigate a serious situation when appropriate report to law enforcement.”

Lawmakers have long grappled with policymaking around encryption, which civil liberties groups say is vital to protecting the security of all users and businesses, and especially dissidents, journalists and other vulnerable individuals living under authoritarian governments. Law enforcement officials have said encryption makes it more difficult to identify criminal suspects and solve crimes.

Co-founder and CEO of Snap Inc. Evan Spiegel attends the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on online child sexual exploitation at the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, on January 31.

Nathan Howard/Reuters

Snap CEO Evan Spiegel will work to distance Snapchat from some of its most heavily scrutinized competitors on Wednesday, emphasizing to lawmakers that Snapchat works differently from the likes of Instagram or TikTok.

In prepared testimony reviewed by CNN, Spiegel will say that on average, most Snapchat users connect directly with their friends.

“We designed Snapchat to open into the camera, instead of a content feed, to encourage creativity instead of passive consumption,” Spiegel will testify. “When people share their Story with friends on Snapchat there are no public likes or comments.”

Spiegel’s testimony goes on to highlight steps the company has taken to limit unwanted contacts between users, the spread of child sexual abuse material and illicit drug deals on the platform.

“We block drug-related search terms and redirect people searching for drugs to educational materials on our service,” including public awareness campaigns created by third-party groups, according to the prepared remarks. A California judge recently ruled that Snap must face a lawsuit over children’s fentanyl purchases linked to the app.

Spiegel is also emphasizing his company’s endorsement of the Kids Online Safety Act, a hot-button bill sponsored by Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Tennessee Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn that is opposed by much of the rest of the tech industry.

In his opening remarks, Sen. Lindsey Graham mentioned a state lawmaker who lost his eldest son and who is now suing Meta. That lawmaker is South Carolina state house Rep. Brandon Guffey.

About two weeks after his oldest son’s funeral, Guffey says he received a private Instagram message with a laughing emoji.

Gavin Guffey, 17, had fatally shot himself in a bathroom in July 2022, and the grieving father was searching for clues on what led to his suicide.

Then Guffey and his younger son began to get messages demanding money in exchange for nude photos of his late son. Anyone on Gavin’s Instagram followers list who had the last name Guffey got similar messages, his father says.

The family began piecing together Gavin’s last moments and discovered he had encountered a scammer on Instagram and unwittingly became a victim of sexual extortion, a crime the FBI warns is increasingly targeting undecage boys and leading to an alarming increase in suicides nationwide.

Now Guffey is suing Instagram’s parent company, Meta, for wrongful death, gross negligence and other claims, saying it does not do enough to protect children like Gavin from online predators.

Read more here.

From U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary

South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told tech CEOs in his opening remarks, “You have blood on your hands.”

It triggered an applause and cheers from many in the audience.

“You have a product that’s killing people … You can’t be sued, you should be!” Graham added. “It is now time to repeal Section 230.”

Section 230 is the federal law that immunizes websites and social media platforms for their content moderation decisions and from lawsuits arising from user-generated content.

From U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary

The Judiciary chairman, Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, said social media companies not only “have contributed to this crisis, they are responsible.”

Durbin also criticized the companies for “conveniently” rolling out new announcements on child safety only in the week ahead of the hearing.

(L-R) Jason Citron, CEO of Discord; Evan Spiegel, CEO of Snap; Shou Zi Chew, CEO of TikTok; Linda Yaccarino, CEO of X; and Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, watch a video of victims before testifying at the US Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, “Big Tech and the Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis,” in Washington, DC, today.

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

The lawmakers and tech executives are now in their seats as the Senate Judiciary Committee is set to grill the chief executives of five big tech companies, including Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, about potential harms from their products on teens.

As the CEOs entered the room and took their seats, some of the parents — still standing and holding pictures of their loved ones — hissed at the executives.

The hearing has begun with a video of people telling their stories on how they or their loved ones were harmed on social media.

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In the weeks before Wednesday’s hearing, Meta rolled out a series of new youth safety policies and features for Facebook and Instagram. They join Meta’s existing slate of more than 30 well-being and parental oversight tools aimed at protecting young users.

Here are some of the safety updates the company has launched so far this year:

  • Hiding “age-inappropriate content” such as posts discussing self-harm and eating disorders, nudity or restricted goods from teens’ feeds and stories, even if it is shared by someone they follow.
  • Expanding the range of search terms related to self-harm, suicide and eating disorders for which it hides results and instead directs users to support resources. 
  • “Nighttime nudge” will encourage teens to stop scrolling on Instagram after 10 p.m.
  • Changing teens’ default privacy settings to restrict people they don’t follow or aren’t connected to from sending them direct messages.
  • Partnering with the Center for Open Science to provide “certain, privacy-preserving social media data” to select researchers to study well-being.

Relatives of victims hold their portraits before the start of the US Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, “Big Tech and the Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis,” in Washington, DC, on January 31, 2024.

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The room has gone silent as dozens of parents stood in their seats, holding up pictures of loved ones allegedly harmed by social media. No witnesses have entered yet though lawmakers are beginning to filter in, including Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.

The Snapchat logo is displayed on an iPhone in the Apple app store in August 2023.

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Snapchat earlier this month said it would give parents the option to block their teens from interacting with the app’s “My AI” chatbot following some questions about the tool’s safety for young people.

The change will mean that if parents opt to turn off the tool, teens can message My AI but the chatbot will respond only with a note that it has been disabled.

The announcement was part of broader set of additions to Snapchat’s parental oversight tool Family Center.

The platform will also now offer parents visibility into their teens’ safety and privacy settings in the Family Center. A parent can see who their child shares their Stories posts with, who is able to contact their child on the app and whether their child is sharing their location with friends on the app’s live “Snap Map” feature.

Read more here.

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg plans to urge lawmakers to implement legislation that would make app store operators — rather than social media platforms — responsible for verifying the ages of users, according to prepared testimony released ahead of Wednesday’s hearing.

Zuckerberg is also set to promote the company’s existing youth safety measures — including “take a break” reminders that urge teens to stop scrolling on Instagram and letting parents oversee who their child follows.

Those efforts have faced criticism for placing too much responsibility in the hands of parents and teens themselves to ensure they have a safe experience on the company’s platforms.

Zuckerberg is also expected to note that “the existing body of scientific work has not shown a causal link between using social media and young people having worse mental health outcomes,” according to his prepared testimony.

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivers a speech at the Meta Connect event at the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California, on September 27, 2023.

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Senior Meta executives tried to sound the alarm internally about Instagram and Facebook’s handling of kid safety, warning CEO Mark Zuckerberg in 2021 “we are not on track” and that the company faces “increased regulatory risk” due to underinvestment in user safety, according to new internal documents published Wednesday by two US senators.

The newly released communications provide some of the most specific and direct evidence to date that Zuckerberg may have ignored or rebuffed efforts by senior company officials, including then-COO Sheryl Sandberg and President of Global Affairs Nick Clegg, to invest more heavily in the mental health of Meta’s users.

In one August 2021 email, Clegg told Zuckerberg a growing number of policymakers worldwide have “publicly and privately” expressed concerns about Facebook and Instagram’s possible effects on teen mental health.

US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy directly raised the issue with Clegg, he reported to Zuckerberg, while congressional Republicans were increasingly making kids and social media a “centerpiece of their tech agenda” in an electoral strategy to “win back ‘suburban moms,’” Clegg’s email said.

The growing scrutiny could follow Meta as it attempts a high-stakes pivot into virtual reality, Clegg warned.

Two years later, however, Zuckerberg has instead laid off thousands of employees, including staff dedicated to user well-being. And his company is confronting a rising tide of litigation and regulation by governments around the world.

In this photo illustration, a YouTube logo is seen displayed on a smartphone.

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A gruesome killing is under investigation after a man posted a social media video showing what he claimed was his father’s decapitated head and ranting about the Biden administration and the border crisis while declaring himself the new acting president of the United States under martial law.

The video circulated for hours on YouTube – garnering more than 5,000 views – before it was taken down. Justin Mohn, 32, now is being held without bond, and is charged with murder, abuse of a corpse and other charges, Pennsylvania court documents show.

While Sundar Pichai, the CEO of YouTube parent Alphabet, will not be among the tech CEOs on Capitol Hill today, the video is almost certain to come up as an extreme example of the potential harms of social media to young people and to others.

Left to right: Jason Citron, CEO of Discord, Shou Zi Chew, CEO of TikTok, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, Linda Yaccarino, CEO of X, Evan Spiegel, CEO of Snap.

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Here are the names of the tech leaders expected to appear in today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing:

  • Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg
  • Snap CEO Evan Spiegel
  • X (formerly Twitter) CEO Linda Yaccarino
  • TikTok CEO Shou Chew
  • Discord CEO Jason Citron

Many of the tech CEOs are likely to use Wednesday’s hearing to tout tools and policies to protect children and give parents more control over their kids’ online experiences.

However, parents and online safety advocacy groups say many of the tools released by social media platforms don’t go far enough — largely leaving the job of protecting teens up to parents and, in some cases, the young users themselves — and that tech platforms can no longer be left to self-regulate.

“What the committee needs to do is to push these executives to commit to major changes, especially to disconnect their advertising and marketing systems from services that are known to attract and target youth,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of online consumer protection nonprofit the Center for Digital Democracy.