Political junkies and online video observers should circle January 31, 2024 on their calendars. That’s when the CEOs of five major tech companies — Meta, X, TikTok, Snap, and Discord — will visit the U.S. Capitol to answer questions related to child safety on social media.
The hearing will be hosted by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will grill the assembled execs about their “failure to protect children online.” That’s how Judiciary Committee leaders Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsay Graham (R-SC) described Big Tech’s security and safety lapses in a press release announcing the hearing.
This will not be the first time that tech execs have faced off against a hostile Congressional committee. Representatives from YouTube and TikTok address concerns about data privacy during a contentious 2022 hearing. A few months later, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew took his turn in the Senatorial spotlight as he looked to fend off an attempted ban on the app he heads.
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For the January 31 hearing, Chew and Meta boss Mark Zuckerberg voluntarily agreed to testify before Congress. The other three CEOs (X’s Linda Yaccarino, Snap’s Evan Spiegel, and Discord’s Jason Citron) only agreed to visit D.C. after receiving subpoenas from Durbin and Graham earlier this month.
Major tech platforms have taken some strides to protect their youngest users, but the aforementioned CEOs shouldn’t expect
many plaudits from the Senate. The Judiciary Committee’s press release makes its stance clear: It does not believe the web’s biggest platforms are doing enough to protect children from harmful content.
“We’ve known from the beginning that our efforts to protect children online would be met with hesitation from Big Tech,” Durbin and Graham said in a joint statement. “They finally are being forced to acknowledge their failures when it comes to protecting kids.”
President Biden has repeatedly stressed the need for stronger safeguards that can protect underage social media users. He mentioned child safety in his State of the Union addresses in both 2022 and 2023. “We must hold social media platforms accountable for the national experiment they’re conducting on our children for profit,” Biden said in 2022. “It’s time to strengthen privacy protections, ban targeted advertising to children, demand tech companies stop collecting personal data on our children.”
The U.S. government is not the only regulatory body attempting to rein in Big Tech. Earlier this year, the European Union sent letters to TikTok and YouTube requesting information about the child safety measures those platforms have in place. If the continental entity is not satisfied with those answers, it could attempt to enforce fines against infringing companies.