Today, the US Senate Judiciary Committee will hear testimony from five CEOs of major tech companies: Linda Yaccarino of X, Shou Zi Chew of TikTok, Evan Spiegel of Snap, Mark Zuckerberg of Meta, and Jason Citron of Discord. The executives will answer questions on the topic of “Big Tech and the online child sexual exploitation crisis,” an ongoing issue for a Congress that’s introduced numerous child safety bills in recent years.
The hearing has been months in the making and apparently involved a little strong-arming from Congress, which reportedly sent US Marshals to subpoena Yaccarino and Citron. It begins at 10AM ET and will likely last several hours as lawmakers seize their opportunity to yell at some of both parties’ favorite bêtes noires. Chew and Zuckerberg have both been the subject of congressional hearings — Zuckerberg starting in 2018 after Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal, Chew in 2023 amid efforts to ban TikTok in the US. (Zuckerberg was also nearly held in contempt of Congress last year, too.)
If you’re interested in tuning in, you have a few options. The hearing will be streamed on the Judiciary Committee’s website. You can also catch it on the committee’s X account or Facebook account, or check out the C-SPAN stream on their site or YouTube.
Some of the CEOs have already released their opening statements. Snap’s Spiegel will emphasize his company’s work to rid the platform of extortion, child sexual abuse material, and illegal drugs, focusing on proactive measures it takes to identify harmful content. His testimony seems to draw points of contrast between Snap and its peers. It includes noting that the company does not “anticipate implementing encryption in a way that would prevent us from scanning uploads for known child sexual abuse imagery”; critics have slammed Meta over its decision to expand end-to-end encryption, worried that the heightened privacy protections will make it harder to detect child predators on the service.
Snap already broke from its peers earlier this week in coming out in support of the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), a piece of legislation that will likely be the focal point of the event. The bill would mandate a duty of care for large platforms used by minors.
The Kids Online Safety Act will likely be the event’s focal point
Zuckerberg plans to advocate for better age verification and parental controls, according to his written remarks. He backs the idea of age verification at the app store level and new laws that mandate app stores to require parental approval for teens’ downloads — a proposal that puts the onus on companies like Apple and Google that run mobile app stores.
TikTok’s Chu, meanwhile, plans to pledge $2 billion toward moderation in 2024.
KOSA’s lead sponsors, Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), laid out their objectives for the hearing in a meeting with reporters on Tuesday. The senators want to get each CEO on the record about whether they will support their legislation and pointed to the industry’s massive lobbying efforts as a hurdle for the bill, despite broad support in the Senate.
Even so, Blumenthal acknowledged they are still working with stakeholders to further refine the bill. One area of discussion, he said, is about whether state attorneys general should be able to enforce KOSA. Some LGBTQ advocates have warned that state AG enforcement could leave too much up to interpretation of political players at a time when trans youth rights have been under attack from the right. Blackburn has previously said that lawmakers should focus on “protecting minor children from the transgender,” exacerbating concerns that KOSA will be used to punish sites for allowing discussion of gender identity.
Blumenthal said he couldn’t speak for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on whether he’d endorse KOSA in particular, but believes Schumer “is very intent on enabling a vote during this session of Congress on matters like the Kids Online Safety Act.”
Ahead of the hearing, Blumenthal and Blackburn released a new set of documents from Meta that show the company’s internal deliberations about whether to invest further in youth safety initiatives in 2019 and 2021. Meta produced the documents in response to a letter from the lawmakers demanding more information on their decision-making. While top executives at the company expressed support for the goals of the investment, they pointed to budgeting constraints as a likely obstacle to approval.
Blumenthal contrasted the documents with Meta global head of safety Antigone Davis’ testimony in 2021, where she stressed that the company was investing deeply in protecting young users.
“This emphasizes the falsity of a lot of what they have told the public,” Blumenthal said.
Update 9:57AM ET: Added links to C-SPAN streams of the hearing.