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Meta, TikTok, X CEOs to face tough questions on child safety at US Senate hearing

January 31, 2024 06:05 pm | Updated 06:05 pm IST - WASHINGTON

The CEOs of social media companies Meta, X, TikTok, Snap and Discord will face tough questions on efforts to combat online child sexual exploitation

The chief executives of social media companies Meta, X, TikTok, Snap, and Discord will face tough questions on efforts to combat online child sexual exploitation.   | Photo Credit: Reuters

The chief executives of social media companies Meta, X, TikTok, Snap, and Discord will face tough questions Wednesday on efforts to combat online child sexual exploitation at a U.S. Senate hearing on Wednesday.

Senator Dick Durbin, the Judiciary Committee's Democratic chairman, said some tech firms had made some recent changes to protect children from online predators but had not done enough. "It's clear that we need legislation because the tech industry has failed on its own to protect our kids. They're protecting their profits, but they're not protecting our children," Durbin said Tuesday.

It will be the first appearance by TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew before U.S. lawmakers since March when the Chinese-owned short video app company faced harsh questions, including some suggesting the app was damaging children's mental health.

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"We make careful product design choices to help make our app inhospitable to those seeking to harm teens," Chew's written testimony says, adding TikTok's community guidelines strictly prohibit anything that puts "teenagers at risk of exploitation or other harm -- and we vigorously enforce them."

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Chew disclosed more than 170 million Americans used TikTok monthly -- 20 million more than the company said last year.

Durbin said the platforms are being used by offenders to target children or trade child sexual abuse material.

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, X CEO Linda Yaccarino, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel and Discord CEO Jason Citron will testify.

"We’re committed to protecting young people from abuse on our services, but this is an ongoing challenge," Zuckerberg's written testimony says. "As we improve defenses in one area, criminals shift their tactics, and we have to come up with new responses."

Speigel said Snap's parental controls resemble "how we believe parents monitor their teens activity in the real world – where parents want to know who their teens are spending time with but don’t need to listen in on every private conversation."

The committee last year approved several bills including one that would remove tech firms' immunity from civil and criminal liability under child sexual abuse material laws that was first proposed in 2020. None have become law.

Senator Amy Klobuchar told Reuters it is time for legislative action. "For too long social media companies have turned a blind eye when young children joined the platforms, increased the risk of sexual exploitation, used algorithms that push harmful content, and provided a venue for dealers to sell deadly drugs like fentanyl,” she said.

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