EVENT ENDED

Senate hearing highlights: Lawmakers grill CEOs from TikTok, X and Meta about online child safety

The hearing, “Big Tech and the Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis,” lasted roughly four hours.

SHARE THIS —

The Senate Judiciary Committee gave a group of prominent social media CEOs a bipartisan thrashing on Wednesday, pressing them on alleged shortcomings related to the safety of young people on their platforms.

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced the toughest questioning, at one point turning around to apologize to parents who filled the chamber. Those parents carried pictures of their children whose deaths have been tied to social media through drugs, harassment and other threats.

But unlike in past hearings that primarily focused on the platforms themselves, senators consistently pressed the tech leaders on whether they supported various pieces of legislation meant to address online safety.

The tech executives reaffirmed their commitment to child safety. Many of the social media platforms pointed to various tools they offer as examples of how they are proactive about preventing exploitation online.


16w ago / 2:00 PM EST

The CEOs exited the room pretty quickly after the hearing concluded, leaving through a side door and taking no questions.

16w ago / 1:55 PM EST

That's about as bipartisan a hearing as you're going to see these days.

But the question remains: What legislation will make it past both houses of Congress, the president's desk and a Supreme Court review?

Washington has been talking about these issues for years, and the momentum does seem palpable. But the political reality is what it is.

16w ago / 1:56 PM EST

That hearing was definitely not as painful as similar tech and social media related hearings in the past. But the “yadda yadda yadda” moment from Kennedy was a real head scratcher.

16w ago / 1:55 PM EST

Here are the most notable remarks from senators

Kaetlyn Liddy
  • “If you’re waiting on these guys to solve the problem, we’re gonna die waiting.” — Graham, on the tech platform CEOs taking action.
  • “It’s been 28 years since the internet. We haven’t passed any of these bills … The reason they haven’t passed is because of the power of your companies, so let’s be really, really clear about that. What you say matters. Your words matter.” — Klobuchar, on the lack of legislation.
  • “Your platforms really suck at policing themselves.” — Whitehouse.
16w ago / 1:53 PM EST

Hearing closes with one final lash for Zuckerberg

Sen. Durbin wrapped the hearing with a final criticism for Zuckerberg and his opening statement.

"Mr. Zuckerberg, just a little advice," Durbin said. "I think your opening statement on mental health needs to be explained because I don’t think it makes any sense."

Durbin went on to say that a parent in the room had a child go through "an emotional experience" and, afterward, the parent said their child "changed right in front of my eyes."

"They holed themselves up in their room. They no longer reached out to their friends. They lost all interest in school. These are mental health consequences that" come from technology like Meta platforms, Durbin said.

16w ago / 1:47 PM EST

Sen. Welch expresses optimism over the future of child safety

Sen. Peter Welch, D-Vt., said there's been progress in addressing child safety, but not enough.

"There is a consensus today that didn't exist, say 10 years ago, that there is a profound threat to children to mental health, to safety," he said.

Welch identified solutions for better ensuring child safety online, including setting industry standards, enacting more legislation, reforming Section 230 and potentially adding a government agency to regulate tech companies.

He questioned the CEOs on layoffs in their companies' trust and safety departments.

"That's alarming because it looks like there is a reduction in emphasis on protecting things," he said.

16w ago / 2:01 PM EST
Jonathan Vanian, CNBC

Welch questioned executives about their massive cost-cutting efforts last year that resulted in a significant number of layoffs affecting employees who have worked in their respective trust-and-safety programs.

CNBC previously reported in May that Meta laid off at least 16 employees who were part of Instagram’s well-being group and over 100 positions related to trust, integrity and responsibility, according to documents filed with the U.S. Department of Labor.

Zuckerberg acknowledged that while Meta conducted layoffs “across the board,” the job cuts were “not really focused on that area.”

“I think our investment is relatively consistent over the last couple of years,” Zuckerberg said. "We invested almost $5 billion last year, and I think this year will be on the same order of magnitude.”

16w ago / 1:44 PM EST

In a heated exchange with Sen. Blackburn, Zuckerberg pushed back on the senator's comment that Meta's social media sites are trying to be "the premiere sex trafficking site in the country."

Zuckerberg replied: "That’s ridiculous."

16w ago / 1:44 PM EST

The crowd in the hearing room broke into applause after the heated exchange between Zuckerberg and Sen. Blackburn over corporate lobbying.

Sen. Blackburn focused on lobbying efforts from the present tech companies, citing a laundry list of interest organizations and groups that she said have been paid by the tech industry to push against proposed pieces of legislation.

The senator ended her questioning by asking that tech companies to come to the table in good faith to help figure out regulatory solutions to child safety issues.

16w ago / 1:33 PM EST

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., pushed back on reported plans of a permanent TikTok campus in Tennessee.

In her questioning, she addressed TikTok's CEO, saying, "Nashville will not be rolling out the welcome mat for you."

Blackburn has been a consistent and intense critic of TikTok and other tech companies.

16w ago / 1:36 PM EST

Blackburn previously opposed TikTok building a campus in Nashville. She renewed concerns over TikTok’s ties to China and potential national security risks that TikTok poses.

“We do not want TikTok operating anywhere in the United States, especially not in our state,” her office previously said in a statement.

16w ago / 1:28 PM EST
Jonathan Vanian, CNBC

Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., made the general criticism against Meta that critics have made for years: The fundamental business model of driving and optimizing user engagement and growth trumps any safety-related measure the company might consider.

Zuckerberg disagrees, of course, but for years he’s found himself arguing against this core belief about the way Facebook operates. He also disagreed with the characterization that Meta’s apps present “dangerous places” for children.

16w ago / 1:28 PM EST

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said he believes that the CEOs testifying didn't get into the tech industry or create their platforms "for the purposes of creating evil."

"At the end of the day, I find it hard to believe that any of you people started this business, some of you in your college dorm rooms, for the purposes of creating the evil that is being perpetrated on your platforms," Tillis said. "But I hope that every single waking hour, you’re doing everything you can to reduce it."