Multiple tech CEOs, including Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg (META), testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee to address child safety concerns on social media platforms. Tensions were high as senators entered a back-and-forth with the chief executives, grilling them over inaction to implement safety guidelines to protect younger users.
Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), authors of the Kids Online Safety Act of 2023, join Yahoo Finance to discuss the key takeaways from the hearings and the importance of passing their bill.
Senator Blumenthal affirms why his legislation is needed: “They’re making money because more eyeballs, more addictive content mean more advertising and more dollars to them. I think more than ever, I feel we need the Kids Online Safety Act to make sure that these tech executives are held accountable. And I will tell you, that as much as Mark Zuckerberg may have felt good about apologizing, or seeming to apologize, actions speak louder than words. And the actions of these tech companies is essentially to ignore the harm that they’re doing and fail to act responsibly.”
Senator Blackburn comments on the bipartisan sentiments held toward social media platforms: “One of the things Senator Blumenthal and I have talked about regularly as we have worked on this specific legislation and others of us who have worked on privacy, online privacy, we have talked about how you have the army of lawyers and lobbyists that fight us on putting in place regulation. They’re fighting because addiction is their business model. They have to have eyeballs locked on those screens in order to get their way, if you will, and to continue their existing business model.”
For more expert insight and the latest market action, click here to watch this full episode of Yahoo Finance Live.
Editor’s note: This article was written by Nicholas Jacobino
MARK ZUCKERBERG: Senator, our job and what we take seriously is making sure that we build industry leading tools, find harmful–
JOSH HAWLEY: To make money.
MARK ZUCKERBERG: Take it off the services.
JOSH HAWLEY: To make money.
MARK ZUCKERBERG: And to build tools that empower parents–
JOSH HAWLEY: So you didn’t take any action– you didn’t take any action. You didn’t fire anybody. You haven’t compensated a single victim. Let me ask you this. Let me ask you this. There’s families of victims here today. Have you apologized to the victims?
MARK ZUCKERBERG: I–
JOSH HAWLEY: Would like to do so now?
MARK ZUCKERBERG: Well–
JOSH HAWLEY: They’re here. You’re on national television. Would you like now to apologize to the victims who have been harmed by your product. Show him the pictures. Would you like to apologize for what you’ve done to these good people?
SEANA SMITH: Tense hearing yesterday on Capitol Hill. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologizing to families during yesterday’s Senate hearing, as lawmakers grilled social media executives about online child safety.
Joining us now with their insight into what we heard yesterday and the legislative efforts going forward, we want to bring in Senator Marsha Blackburn, as well as Senator Richard Blumenthal, both authors of the Kids Online Safety Act.
Senators, thanks so much for taking your time to join us here this morning.
RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: Thank you for having us.
SEANA SMITH: Senator Blumenthal, let me start with you because tension was very high like, we just heard in those videos. Very dramatic moments during the hearing yesterday. Walk us through just your insight or your takeaways from what you heard from these CEOs yesterday and whether or not you are more confident now that you know how to fix or best address the issues that are facing social media giants today.
RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: I feel more strongly than ever before that we simply cannot trust big tech to impose the kinds of safeguards that kids need against bullying and harassment, eating disorders, suicidal, self-injury, all the toxic content that they are driving at our children because it’s part of their business model.
They’re making money because the more eyeballs, more addictive content mean more advertising and more dollars to them. And so I think more than ever, I feel we need the Kids Online Safety Act to make sure that these tech executives are held accountable. And I will tell you that as much as Mark Zuckerberg may have felt good about apologizing or seeming to apologize, actions speak louder than words.
And the actions of these tech companies is essentially to ignore the harm that they’re doing and fail to act responsibly. That’s why we need to pass this legislation.
BRAD SMITH: Senator Blumenthal, of the tech CEOs that were present yesterday, did any of them give you confidence that they would be able to make the necessary changes?
RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: So far, none of them have made the necessary changes, whether they will in the future, I don’t want to say they can’t because, certainly, they can. I don’t want to say they won’t because maybe they’ll start moving in the right direction as a result of this public pressure snap.
And X along with Microsoft now have endorsed this legislation. A sign of the momentum that we’ve generated. But most important, the parents who were there in that room. That picture is worth a thousand words. And they are going to make sure that we get this legislation across the finish line because we can’t count on big tech. They want to spread this mandate of trust us. But we can no longer trust them.
SEANA SMITH: Senator, are you confident you’ll be able to get bipartisan support for this legislation?
RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: We have bipartisan support for it. Almost half the United States Senate, 50 senators, from both sides of the aisle now have cosponsored this bill. And there’s nothing partisan about, unfortunately and tragically, losing kids to suicide, or bullying, or harassment, or eating disorders. It affects red states and blue states and parents, regardless of however they feel about political candidates or partisan causes.
SEANA SMITH: And Senator Blackburn, thanks so much for sticking with us and working through some of those audio issues. I’d love to get just your perspective from what you heard yesterday from the social media CEOs, just in terms of whether or not you think the CEOs understand the scope of the problem, and what is necessary and needs to be done in order to address these tragic issues that, unfortunately, have happened as a result of things that have taken place on their platforms.
MARSHA BLACKBURN: After yesterday, I think some of these social media CEOs have come to realize that the American people are tired of them using children as their product. Teens spend about 8.5 hours a day on their devices. And when they are on these platforms, they are– they’re the product. They’re producing data. The longer a platform can keep a child on that platform, the richer that data is. Then they make more money when they sell that data to advertisers.
And the room full of parents that were there yesterday, the parents that are here to advocate for the passage of the Kids Online Safety Act, this is changing the expectation from these social media platforms. They are realizing they are going to have to design for safety. That they’re going to have to put protections in place to be certain that parents and kids have a toolbox so that they can disable some of these algorithms.
So it may have been the Wild West for a lot of these folks that run these social media platforms. But that is changing. And it is because of the advocacy of these parents and also of friends that are doing this in the memory of one of their friends that this is going to change.
BRAD SMITH: Senator Blackburn, politicians are also some of the spenders in terms of the campaigns that are run and advertisements and marketing efforts that are run on all of these social media platforms. Are any of your constituents or any of your colleagues willing to pause and take that step of even pausing campaigns until you see the changes that you would like to on this front from social media companies?
MARSHA BLACKBURN: One of the things Senator Blumenthal and I have talked about regularly, as we have worked on this specific legislation and others of us who have worked on online privacy. We have talked about how you have the army of lawyers and lobbyists that fight us on putting in place this regulation.
And they’re fighting because addiction is their business model. They have to have eyeballs locked on those screens in order to get their way, if you will. And to continue their existing business model. And, truthfully, I think that business model is going to have to change because people are not going to spend that amount of time or allow their children to spend that amount of time locked on the screen every day.
BRAD SMITH: But you’re saying you would still continue to spend on campaigns, despite not seeing what you want to from these companies.
MARSHA BLACKBURN: What we are focused on is having the companies respond to protecting children in the virtual space. At this point, there is no regulation that is in place that would protect children in that virtual space.
BRAD SMITH: Senator Marsha Blackburn and Senator Richard Blumenthal, thank you for taking the time to break down what’s in the bill. And we’ll see, ultimately, what comes next from these companies, if they respond. Appreciate it.
RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.
BRAD SMITH: Thanks.