VIDEO: Social Media Company CEOs Testify on Online Child Sexual Exploitation

VIDEO: Social Media Company CEOs Testify on Online Child Sexual Exploitation

At Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing with Tech CEOs, Klobuchar Raises Concerns About Online Fentanyl Trafficking, Sexual Exploitation, and Social Media’s Impact on Young People

Press Release

WASHINGTON - At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled “Big Tech and the Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis,” U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) asked the CEO of Discord Inc., Jason Citron, CEO of TikTok Inc., Shou Chew, Co-founder and CEO of Snap Inc., Evan Spiegel, CEO of X, Linda Yaccarino, and Founder and CEO of Meta, Mark Zuckerberg about turning a blind eye when young children joined their platforms, the risk of sexual exploitation, using algorithms that push harmful content, and providing a venue for drug traffickers to sell deadly narcotics like fentanyl.

Klobuchar is a leader in the fight to protect kids online. In February 2023, Senator Klobuchar introduced bipartisan legislation with Senator John Cornyn, the Stopping Harmful Image Exploitation and Limiting Distribution (SHIELD) Act. The bill would establish federal criminal liability for people who knowingly distribute intimate images of individuals without consent or threaten to do so and addresses gaps in current law dealing with child images. Senator Klobuchar is a cosponsor of the Cooper Davis Act, which would require social media companies and other communication service providers to report to the DEA when they know of the sale or distribution of illicit drugs including fentanyl, methamphetamine, or a counterfeit controlled substance on their platforms. Senator Klobuchar is also a cosponsor of the Strengthening Transparency and Obligations to Protection Children Suffering from Abuse and Mistreatment Act of 2023 (STOP CSAM Act). The legislation cracks down on the proliferation of child sex abuse material online, supports victims, and increases accountability and transparency for online platforms.

“When a Boeing plane lost a door in mid-flight several weeks ago, nobody questioned the decision to ground a fleet of over 700 planes. So why aren't we taking the same type of decisive action on the danger of these platforms when we know these kids are dying? We have bills that have passed through this incredibly diverse committee when it comes to our political views that have passed through this committee, and they should go to the floor,” said Klobuchar at the hearing. 

Senator Klobuchar: Thank you very much, Chairman Durbin. And thank you, ranking member Graham, for those words. I couldn't agree more. 

For too long, we have been seeing social media companies turn a blind eye when kids have joined these platforms in record numbers. They have used algorithms to push harmful content because that content got popular. They provided a venue, maybe not knowingly at first, but for dealers to sell deadly drugs like fentanyl. Our own head of our Drug Enforcement Administration has said they basically, been captured by the cartels in Mexico and in China. 

So I strongly support, first of all, the Stop C-SAM bill. I agree with Senator Graham that nothing is going to change unless we open up the courtroom doors. I think the time for all of this immunity is done because I think money talks even stronger than we talk up here. Two of the five bills, as noted, are my bills with Senator Cornyn. One has actually passed through the Senate but is waiting for action in the House. But the other one is the Shield Act. And I do support and appreciate those supportive of that bill. 

This is about revenge porn. The FBI director testified before this committee, there have been over 20 suicides of kids attributed to online revenge porn in just the last year. But for those parents out there and those families, this is for them about their own child. But it's also about making sure this doesn't happen to other children. I know because I've talked to these parents, parents like Bridgette Norring from Hastings, Minnesota, who is out there today. Bridgette lost her teenage son after he took a fentanyl lace pill that he purchased on the Internet. Amy Neville is also here. Her son Alexander was only 14 when he died after taking a pill he didn't know was actually fentanyl. We're starting a law enforcement campaign, One Pill Kills in Minnesota, going to the schools with the sheriffs and law enforcement. But the way to stop it is, yes, at the border and at the points of entry, but we know that 30% some of the people that are getting the fentanyl are getting it off the platforms.  Meanwhile, social media platforms generated 11 billion in revenue in 2022 from advertising directed at, ah, children and teenagers, including nearly 2 billion in ad profits derived from users aged twelve and under. 

When a Boeing plane lost a door in mid-flight several weeks ago, nobody questioned the decision to ground a fleet of over 700 planes. So why aren't we taking the same type of decisive action on the danger of these platforms when we know these kids are dying? We have bills that have passed through this incredibly diverse committee, when it comes to our political views that, have passed through this committee, and they should go to the floor. We should do something, finally, about liability, and then we should turn to some of the other issues that a number of us have worked on when it comes to the charges for App Stores and when it comes to some of the monopoly behavior and the self-preferencing. 

But I'm going to stick with this today. Facts. One-third of fentanyl cases investigated over five months had direct ties to social media. That's from the DEA. Facts. Between 2012 and 2022, cyber tip line reports of online child sexual exploitation increased from 415,000 to more than 32 million. And as I noted, at least 20 victims committed suicide in Sextortation cases.

So I'm going to start with that, with you, Mr. Citron. My bill with Senator Cornyn, the SHIELD Act includes a threat provision that would help protection and accountability, for those that are threatened by these predators. Young kids get a picture, send it in. Think they got a new girlfriend, or a new boyfriend. Ruins their life. Or they think it's going to be ruined, and they kill themselves. So could you tell me why you're not supporting The SHIELD Act?

Jason Citron: Senator, we think it's very important that teens have a safe experience on our platforms. I think that the portion to strengthen law enforcement's ability to investigate crimes against children and hold bad actors accountable is incredible.

Klobuchar: So are you holding open that you may support it?

Citron: We very much would like to have conversations with you. We're open to discussing further, and we do welcome legislation and regulation. This is a very important issue for our country, and we've been prioritizing safety for change.

Klobuchar: Okay. Thank you. I'm much more interested in if you support it because there's been so much talk at these hearings and popcorn throwing and the like, and I just want to get this stuff done. I'm so tired of this. It's been 28 years, what, since the Internet. We haven't passed any of these bills because everyone's double talk, double talk. It's time to actually pass them. And the reason they haven't passed is because of the power of your company. So let's be really clear about that. So what you say matters. Your words matter. 

Mr. Chew, I'm a co-sponsor of chair Durbin’s Stop C-SAM Act of 2023, along with Senator Hawley, is the lead Republican, I believe, which, among other things, empowers victims by making it easier for them to ask tech companies to remove the material and related imagery from their platforms. Why would you not support this bill?

Shou Chew: Senator, we largely support it. I think the spirit of it is very aligned with what we want to do. There are questions about implementation that I think companies like us and some other groups have, and we look forward to asking those. And, of course, if this legislation is law, we will comply.

Klobuchar: Mr. Spiegel, I know we talked ahead of time. I do appreciate your company's support for the Cooper Davis Act, which will finally, it's a bill with Senator Shaheen and Marshall, that will allow law enforcement to do more. When it comes to fentanyl, I think you know what a problem this is. Devin Norring, a teenager from Hastings, I mentioned his mom is here, suffered from dental pain and migraines, so he bought what he thought was a Percocet over Snap, but instead, he bought a counterfeit drug laced with a lethal dose of fentanyl. As his mom, who's here with us today, said, all of the hopes and dreams we as parents had for Devin were erased in the blink of an eye. And no mom should have to bury their kid. Talk about why you support the Cooper-Davis Act

Evan Spiegel: Senator, thank you. We strongly support the Cooper Davis Act, and we believe it will help the DA, go after the cartels and get more dealers off the streets to save more lives.

Klobuchar: Okay. Are there others that support that bill? No. Okay.

Last, Mr. Zuckerberg, in 2021, the Wall Street Journal reported on internal Meta research documents asking, “Why do we care about tweens?” These were internal documents. I'm quoting the documents and answering its own question by citing meta internal emails, “they are a valuable but untapped audience.” At a commerce hearing, I'm also on that committee, I asked Meta's head of global safety why children aged ten to twelve are so valuable to Meta. She responded, “We do not knowingly attempt to recruit people who aren't old enough to use our apps.” Well, when the 42 state attorneys general, Democrat, and Republican, brought their case, they said this statement was inaccurate. Few examples. In 2021, she received emails, Ms. Davis, from Instagram's research director, saying that Instagram is investing in experiencing targeting young age, roughly ten to twelve. In a February 2021 instant message, one of your employees wrote that Meta is working to recruit Gen Alpha before they reach their teenage years. A 2018 email that circulated inside Meta says that you were briefed that children under 13 will be critical for increasing the rate of acquisition when users turn 13. 

Explain that with what I heard at that testimony at the commerce hearing that they weren't being targeted. And I just ask again, as the other witnesses were asked, why your company does not support the Stop C-SAM Act or the SHIELD Act.

Mark Zuckerberg: Sure, senator, I'm happy to talk to both of those. We had discussions internally about whether we should build a kid's version of Instagram. 

Klobuchar: I remember that

Zuckerberg: Like the kid's version of YouTube and other services. We haven't actually moved forward with that, and we currently have no plans to do so. So I can't speak directly to the exact emails that you cited, but it sounds to me like they were deliberations around a project that people internally thought was important and we didn't end up moving forward with.

Klobuchar: Okay, and the bills, what are you going to say about the two bills?

Zuckerberg: Sure. Overall, my position on the bills is that I agree with the goal of all of them. There are most things that I agree with within them. There are specific things that I would probably do differently. We also have our own legislative proposal for what we think would be most effective in terms of helping the Internet, in the various companies, give parents control over the experience. So I'm happy to go into the details on any one of them.

Klobuchar: But ultimately, again, I think these parents will tell you the stuff hasn't worked. To just give parents control. They don't know what to do. It's very hard. And that's why we are coming up with other solutions that we think are much more helpful to law enforcement. But also this idea of finally getting something going on liability, because I just believe with all the resources you have, that you actually would be able to do more than you're doing, or these parents would be sitting behind you right now in this Senate hearing.

Zuckerberg: Senator, can I speak to that, or do you want me to come back later? 

Senator Durbin: Please go ahead. 

Zuckerberg: I don't think that parents should have to upload an ID or prove that they're the parent of a child in every single app that their children use. I think the right place to do this and a place where it'd be actually very easy for it to work is within the App Stores themselves. Where my understanding is Apple and Google already, or at least Apple already, require parental consent when a child does a payment within an app. 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 and offers consent to that. And the research that we've done shows that the vast majority of parents want that, And I think that that's the type of legislation, in addition to some of the other ideas that you all have, that would make this a lot easier for parents.

Klobuchar: Just to be clear, I remember one mom telling me with all these things she could maybe do that she can't figure out. 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 material. We've got to make this simpler for parents so they can protect their kids. And I just don't think this is going to be the way to do it. I think the answer is what Senator Graham has been talking about, which is opening up the halls of the courtroom so that puts it on you guys to protect these parents and protect these kids and then also to pass some of these laws that makes it easier for law enforcement.

Background

Senator Klobuchar is a strong supporter of online safety for children. In the past, she previously pressed these issues at Senate hearings with technology sector leaders from Meta, Snap, TikTok, and YouTube.  

In September 2021, during questioning by Klobuchar at the Senate Commerce Committee hearing titled “Protecting Kids Online: Internet Privacy and Manipulative Marketing,” Facebook’s Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis admitted knowing about internal research findings that Instagram worsens eating disorders for teenage girls before it was reported on in the press. 

In October 2021, during the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security hearing titled “Protecting Kids Online: Snapchat, TikTok, and YouTube,” Klobuchar demanded answers from Snap on the tragic deaths of Devin Norring and Ryan McPherson, two young Minnesotans who died after taking drugs bought on Snapchat through messages. In the same hearing, Klobuchar asked both Snap and TikTok representatives on their views on competition policy and her legislation to set commonsense rules of the road for major digital platforms to ensure they cannot unfairly preference their own products and services.

In December 2021, at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing titled “Protecting Kids Online: Instagram and Reforms for Young Users,” Klobuchar highlighted the urgent need for reforms to stop Instagram from profiting off of kids’ and teenagers’ data.

In February 2022, Klobuchar and Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) sent a letter to TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew demanding information about the company’s algorithms that promote content glorifying eating disorders to users, particularly teenage girls. 

Klobuchar is a leader in pushing for legislation to hold technology companies accountable for keeping kids safe online. 

In February 2023, Senator Klobuchar introduced bipartisan legislation with Senator John Cornyn, the Stopping Harmful Image Exploitation and Limiting Distribution (SHIELD) Act. The bill provides federal law enforcement with the tools they need to crack down on serious privacy violations. It establishes federal criminal liability for people who distribute others’ private or explicit images online without consent. The bill also fills in existing gaps in federal law so that prosecutors can hold all those who exploit children accountable. Klobuchar and Cornyn’s SHIELD Act closes a large gap in federal criminal law by criminalizing the distribution of sexually intimate images of adults knowingly or recklessly disregarding that the person depicted did not consent to such distribution. The bill also criminalizes the distribution of sexual images of minors with a malevolent intent.

Senator Klobuchar is a cosponsor of the Cooper Davis Act, which would require social media companies and other communication service providers to report to the DEA when they know of the sale or distribution of illicit drugs, including fentanyl, methamphetamine, or a counterfeit controlled substance on their platforms. The Cooper Davis Act was reported favorably out of the Judiciary Committee in July 2023 by a bipartisan vote of 16-5. This legislation honors the memory of Cooper Davis, a 16 year-old from Kansas, and many other teenagers such as Devin Norring of Hastings, Minnesota, who were tragically killed by counterfeit drugs that were laced with fentanyl. 

Senator Klobuchar is a cosponsor of the Strengthening Transparency and Obligations to Protection Children Suffering from Abuse and Mistreatment Act of 2023 (STOP CSAM Act). The legislation cracks down on the proliferation of child sex abuse material online, supports victims, and increases accountability and transparency for online platforms.

Senator Klobuchar is a cosponsor of the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA). This bipartisan legislation to require social media platforms to make safety the default and to give kids and parents tools to help prevent the destructive impact of social media. KOSA also ensures that parents and policymakers can assess whether social media platforms are taking meaningful steps to address risks to kids. 

Senator Klobuchar is also a cosponsor of the Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA 2.0), bipartisan legislation to update online data privacy rules for the 21st century to ensure children and teenagers are protected online. This legislation passed the Senate Commerce Committee in July.

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