‘How Can You Allow This?’: Lawmakers Grill Social Media Executives On Platforms’ Harm To Kids

Ailan Evans 

Members of the Senate Commerce Committee interrogated executives from Snap, YouTube and TikTok on the negative effects their platforms had on children during a hearing Tuesday.

Lawmakers stressed the importance of platform transparency, demanding insight into the social media companies’ algorithms and content moderation decisions. Republican Senators also raised privacy and national security concerns surrounding TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance.

The hearing comes amid intensifying Congressional scrutiny of Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram following leaks and testimony from former Facebook employee Frances Haugen, who shed light on the negative impact of Instagram on the mental health of teen users.

Jennifer Stout, Snap’s vice president of global public policy, contrasted Snapchat with Facebook and Instagram, stressing the differences between the platforms and characterizing Snapchat as “an antidote to social media.”

TikTok’s Michael Beckerman, a public policy executive, also attempted to differentiate TikTok from other social media companies, pointing out that the platform put in place certain restrictions on child users “because we are committed to do what’s right.” Leslie Miller, vice president of public policy at YouTube, also stressed the child safety features the platform implemented, including proactive moderation of child-oriented content.

“Being different from Facebook is not a defense,” Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said. “That bar is in the gutter.”

“It seems like every day I hear stories about kids and teens who are suffering after interacting with TikTok, YouTube and Snapchat,” said Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. “How can you allow this?”

Lawmakers succeeded in drawing out a commitment from all three companies to release internal research on how their platforms affect children.

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas grilled Beckerman on whether TikTok shared user data with its parent company, ByteDance, but he did not receive a clear answer from the executive. Blackburn also questioned TikTok’s commitment to national security, but Beckerman assured her that the company did not provide the Chinese government with any information.

Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts encouraged the executives to voice their support for the Kids Internet and Design Safety (KIDS) Act, proposed online privacy legislation updating protections for children online, but most of the social media executives voiced support therefor. The bill would curb targeted advertising towards children and limit the amount of information social media companies could collect on underage users.

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