WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, big tech and social media leaders were in the hot-seat during a Congressional hearing.
The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing addressed the shortfalls of social media companies when it comes to protecting minors on social media.
Lawmakers on both sides say the time for talk is over. They certainly did not let up on the big tech moguls which included CEOs and leaders of Meta, “X” formerly known as Twitter, TikTok, Snap, YouTube and Discord.
Democrat and Republican senators grilled the tech leaders about a lack of transparency and lack of investments to ensure children are protected from sexual exploitation, sexual extortion, or “sextortion,” trafficking and self-harming content, among many other harmful categories.
The room was filled with dozens of parents who have lost a child or have a child who’s been negatively impacted by social media in some way.
Stories of “sextortion” on apps like Instagram, were discussed as well as stories of children who died after purchasing illicit drugs on Snapchat.
Sextortion can take many forms. Through various ruses and exploits, victims are lured to share compromising images or engage in compromising conversations. Girls and women are often extorted to produce more sexually explicit pictures, while boys and men are commonly extorted for money. In all cases, the perpetrators use embarrassment and shame with the threat of disclosure to leverage what they want. The sextortion can cause enormous stress and crisis for victims.
Lawmakers in the hearing say it’s time for big tech to protect minors on their platforms.
“I just believe with all the resources you have, that you actually would be able to do more than you’re doing, or these parents wouldn’t be sitting behind you right now in this Senate hearing room,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D- MN).
“Internally you know full well your product is a disaster for teenagers, and yet you keep right on doing what you’re doing,” said Sen. Josh Hawley (R- MO).
“Instagram also displayed the following warning screen to individuals who were searching for child abuse material. ‘These results may contain images of child sexual abuse.’ And then you gave users two choices: ‘get resources or see results anyway.’ Mr. Zuckerberg, what the hell were you thinking,” asked Sen. Ted Cruz (R- TX) when confronting Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Lawmakers also grilled TikTok CEO Shou Chew about the company’s ties with China, and the amount of access and influence the platform grants to the Chinese government.
There are several bills that address transparency, safety issues and other topics discussed in the hearing, we’ll continue to monitor those closely.
If you have information about or believe you are a victim of sextortion, contact your local FBI field office, call 1-800-CALL-FBI, or report it online at http://tips.fbi.gov. This FBI PSA and National Center for Missing and Exploited Children PSA share survivor stories and resources for individuals to get help. More FBI sexual extortion resources are available here.