We’ve seen tech hearings before, and one thing stands out so far — politicians are focusing on legislation. They’re pressing the CEOs on if they support some of the bills working their way through Congress.
That’s notable, since in the past it’s been more about pressing the companies about their actions. Now, the senators appear motivated to figure out how to get laws passed that will force the companies to change.
Will anything actually get passed? That’s a separate issue…
Audience claps for Sen. Amy Klobuchar
Audience members clapped for Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who delivered an impassioned opener urging action on proposed social media regulation.
Klobuchar has been a longtime leader in tech regulation, and introduced the SHIELD Act, which would criminalize the transmission of nonconsenual intimate images and sexualized depictions of children.
The claps for Klobuchar were the first positive expressions of support from the audience for anyone speaking at the hearing.
Klobuchar emphasized now is the time to pass legislation.
“It’s been 28 years since the internet,” she said, addressing the tech executives. “We haven’t passed any of these bills … the reason they haven’t passed is because of the power of your companies, so let’s be really, really clear about that. What you say matters. Your words matter.”
What are the bills lawmakers keep bringing up?
- The Kids Online Safety Act, or KOSA, seeks to create liability, or a “duty of care,” for apps and online platforms that recommend content to minors that can negatively affect their mental health.
- The STOP CSAM Act. CSAM refers to child sexual abuse material. The bill would allow victims of online sexual exploitation to sue social media platforms that promoted or facilitated the abuse and make it easier for victims to ask tech companies to remove CSAM.
- The EARN IT Act. EARN stands for eliminating abusive and rampant neglect of interactive technologies act. The bill would establish a National Commission on Online Child Sexual Exploitation Prevention.
- The SHIELD ACT. SHIELD stands for stopping harmful image exploitation and limiting distribution. It “ensures that federal prosecutors have appropriate and effective tools to address the nonconsensual distribution of sexual imagery,” the Senate Judiciary Committee wrote on its landing page for protecting children online.
- The Project Safe Childhood Act would “modernizes the investigation and prosecution of online child exploitation crimes,” the Senate Judiciary Committee wrote.
We’ve heard a lot about how this issue is urgent across the aisle, and so far the senators seem aligned.
“We’ve found common ground here that just is astonishing,” Graham said.
A strong moment with Durbin pressing Discord’s CEO about sexual content on its platform.
Discord’s Citron said his goal was to get explicit content that violates its policies off the platform.
“Mr Citron, if that were working we wouldn’t be here today,” Durbin said to audible ooohs from the crowd.
Graham pushed TikTok CEO Chew on the resignation of a TikTok employee in Israel who had alleged that the company was platforming antisemitism.
Chew said he was aware of the resignation.
“Pro-Hamas content and hate speech not allowed on our platform,” the CEO added.
Graham grilled the Discord and X CEOs about the company’s backing of various pieces of child safety legislation. Despite Citron’s own nods to some legislation in previous statements, when asked directly if he supported the passage of legislation he answered “no.”
Graham also asked the same of Yaccarino, who made similar nods to legislation that seemed supportive. When asked about the EARN It Act, though, Yaccarino struggled to give a straightforward answer. Graham concluded that he understood Yaccarino’s answer as a “no.”
Graham was pretty effective there. Made a strong point that until tech companies are taken to court, little will change.
Jonathan Vanian, CNBC
Discord CEO Citron said that 15% of Discord is focused on trust and safety, which is more than the company has “working on marketing and promoting the company.”
With opening statements done, Durbin starts his questioning. He’s focused on Discord and TikTok — two of the newer entrants to the child safety issue.
Apple is the missing elephant in the room
Linda Yaccarino referred to companies that weren’t in the hearing room in her opening statement.
For many advocates and parents, the first missing company that comes to mind is Apple.
In ads ahead of the hearing, a group called the Heat Initiative called out Apple’s role in certain child exploitation places.
In interviews ahead of the hearing, several parents and audience members noted they wished they would have seen Apple executives in the hearing room.