‘Blood on Your Hands’: Senators Confront Big Tech CEOs Over Child Safety
‘Blood on Your Hands’: Senators Confront Big Tech CEOs Over Child Safety

By Savannah Hulsey Pointer

Bipartisan lawmakers have urged social media executives to address the issue of children’s sexual exploitation online. During a hearing with company leaders, they asserted that social platforms bear responsibility for the negative impacts their products have on children, accusing them of having “blood on their hands.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on January 31 featured testimony from the CEOs of major tech companies, including Discord, Meta, Snap, TikTok, and X (formerly Twitter). Each executive provided justifications for the safety features of their respective apps.

“Social media companies, as they are currently designed and operate, are dangerous products,” committee ranking member Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in his opening statements. “They’re destroying lives, threatening democracy itself. These companies must be reined in, or the worst is yet to come.”

The South Carolina Republican also told the story of a fellow lawmaker from his state whose child killed himself due to sexual exploitation that took place through Instagram, a subsidiary of Meta.

“Mr. Zuckerberg, you and the companies before us … have blood on your hands. You have a product that’s killing people.”

(L-R) Discord CEO Jason Citron, Snap Co-founder and CEO Evan Spiegel, TikTok CEO Shou Chew, X, previously known as Twitter, CEO Linda Yaccarino, and Meta Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee about big tech and the online child sexual exploitation crisis in Washington on Jan. 31, 2024. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

Pending Legislation

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, delivered a floor speech the day before the hearing, asserting that the focus of the hearing was on the alleged failures of technology companies to protect children from sexual exploitation online.

Mr. Durbin called on his fellow senators to support his legislative proposal, the Strengthening Transparency and Obligations to Protect Children Suffering from Abuse and Mistreatment Act of 2023 (STOP CSAM Act).

The legislation aims to provide support for victims, enhance accountability, and increase transparency for online platforms, he said.

Mr. Durbin emphasized the need for tech companies to prioritize child safety and make their platforms inaccessible to child sex offenders. He acknowledged that while some companies have recently implemented child safety measures, more action is required to combat this crisis effectively.

In the committee’s introduction to the hearing, Mr. Durbin also referenced previous warnings about social media from The National Center on Sexual Exploitation. Five tech companies, including social media platforms Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Roblox, and Reddit, were included on its annual “Dirty Dozen“ list for their alleged roles in facilitating child sexual exploitation.

In his speech, Mr. Durbin highlighted reports of offenders using these platforms to target children and trade child sexual abuse material. He also stressed the importance of holding these tech companies accountable for the harm inflicted upon children and urged his fellow senators to demand answers during the hearing.

The lawmaker concluded his speech by urging Congress to update Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which currently shields the tech industry from accountability. He argued that adapting the law is essential to hold tech companies responsible for their actions and to protect children from exploitation.

Mr. Durbin also reaffirmed his commitment to working towards legislation that safeguards children and holds the tech industry accountable for its role in child exploitation.

“Everyone needs to do their part to stop this gross injustice, and that includes Congress finally enacting legislation that holds the tech industry accountable when it fails to protect children,“ Mr. Durbin said. ”That is why the Judiciary Committee will hold its landmark hearing tomorrow. And it is why I will continue working to bring the STOP CSAM Act and other critical bills that would protect our kids to the Senate floor.”

Parents hold photos of children who passed away ahead of the social media CEO’s testimony about big tech and the online child sexual exploitation crisis before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington on Jan. 31, 2024. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

‘We’re Gonna Die Waiting’

Mr. Graham questioned Discord’s CEO about his support for the STOP CSAM Act and each of the other bipartisan bills before the committee, but on each occasion, the executive was unwilling to offer support.

“If you wait on these guys to solve the problem, we’re gonna die waiting,” Mr. Graham said after questioning executives about the legislation.

During her opening statements, Linda Yaccarino, the CEO of X, expressed support for the STOP CSAM Act. However, when later questioned by Mr. Durbin about supporting other pieces of legislation, she was unable to confirm her company’s support.

Near the end of his questioning, Mr. Graham again reiterated his frustration with the social platforms and their leadership, saying: “I am tired of talking. I’m tired of having discussions. We all know the answer here … Stand behind your product. Go to the American courtroom and defend your practices. Open up the courthouse door. Until you do that, nothing will change. These people can be sued for the damage they’re doing.”

The lawmaker said he believes that Americans who have been wronged due to social media platforms’ efforts to further their business should have “somebody to go to to complain.”

“There is no commission to go to that can punish you. There’s not one law in the book because you oppose everything we do, and you can’t be sued. That has to stop folks … Because for all the upside of social media the dark side is too great to live with. We do not need to live this way as Americans.”

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