In a lengthy and emotionally charged session, the Senate Judiciary Committee secured a dramatic apology from Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg regarding harmful content affecting children on social media.
Additionally, two other tech companies were nudged to cautiously endorse stalled bills related to kids’ safety. However, the event, intended to hold tech CEOs accountable for child safety, instead demonstrated the challenges Congress faces in effectively holding them responsible.
During the nearly four-hour hearing, Zuckerberg apologized for harmful content but emphasized Meta’s investment in its own approach to kids’ online safety. Notably, Meta has not supported any of the five bills on child safety moved by the Judiciary Committee this term. The bills are yet to receive a Senate floor vote.
The hearing showcased a familiar pattern in Washington, where politicians criticize powerful but seemingly untouchable tech-platform leaders without achieving significant accountability.
Both Republican and Democratic senators criticized tech leaders, particularly Zuckerberg and TikTok’s Shou Zi Chew, for their platforms’ perceived failure in self-regulation.
Senators like Sheldon Whitehouse and Lindsey Graham strongly criticized the platforms’ shortcomings in policing themselves, with Graham even stating, “You have blood on your hands.” Hawley and Cotton pressed Chew on TikTok’s relationship with its Beijing-based owner ByteDance and the Chinese government.
While the criticism resonated with advocates and families affected by online harms, the hearing highlighted the challenges Congress faces in enacting new rules for tech platforms. The industry generally opposes new laws aimed at protecting kids, and CEOs offered limited support for multiple stalled bills. Regulation specifically targeting TikTok has also lost momentum.
During the hearing, X CEO Linda Yaccarino endorsed Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin’s STOP CSAM Act, which aims to amend tech platforms’ liability shield (Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act) to allow individuals to sue platforms for distributing material related to online child sexual exploitation.
However, the group remained largely silent or evasive when asked about their support for the complete set of laws. Yaccarino declined to support the EARN IT Act, sponsored by Graham, which would limit tech’s liability shield to allow individuals to sue companies for hosting child sexual abuse material.
Jason Citron, Discord CEO, expressed the company’s lack of preparedness to support the STOP CSAM Act or the EARN IT Act but suggested that Section 230, a “very old law,” needs updating. D
iscord later clarified its support for “elements” of the STOP CSAM Act. Overall, the hearing showcased the complex dynamics between lawmakers and tech leaders, with bipartisan criticism but limited consensus on specific legislative measures.