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Democratic senator questions Twitter’s handling of child safety under Elon Musk

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin gave Musk until December 30 to answer questions about how the social media app is trying to stop the spread of child abuse material.
Image: Elon Musk arrives at the Leonard L. Williams Justice Center in Wilmington, Del. on July 13, 2021.
Elon Musk arrives at the Leonard L. Williams Justice Center in Wilmington, Del., on July 13, 2021. Matt Rourke / AP

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin, D-Ill., sent a letter to tech billionaire Elon Musk on Friday expressing concern that Twitter’s approach to child safety had “rapidly deteriorated” since Musk bought the social media site in October. 

The letter follows reports from several news outlets, including NBC News, about Musk’s eliminating the jobs of people at Twitter who worked to prevent child sexual exploitation and disbanding a board of outside experts who advised Twitter on its efforts to address exploitation. 

Durbin wrote that he was not convinced by Musk’s recent pledge that addressing child sexual exploitation content was “Priority #1.”

“I am gravely concerned about the apparent disconnect between your statements about eradicating online child sexual exploitation on Twitter and your company’s actual efforts to do so,” Durbin wrote. 

He continued: “While Twitter certainly had room for improving online child safety before you acquired it, reports indicate that Twitter’s approach to child safety has rapidly deteriorated on your watch." 

Durbin cited Musk’s decision to dissolve Twitter’s expert board, known as its Trust and Safety Council, as well as a 50% reduction in staff at Twitter’s child safety team. And he noted that Twitter failed to send a representative to an annual industry meeting this month about the same topic. 

The letter asks Musk to answer seven sets of questions by December 30. 

Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday night about the possibility of a congressional investigation.

By one metric — reports to an outside group that tracks child sexual abuse material — Musk has made little difference, for better or worse. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, the organization tasked by the federal government with tracking reports of child sexual abuse material online, has said that little has changed under Musk’s leadership in terms of Twitter’s reporting practices. 

Durbin wrote to Musk that Twitter has both “global legal obligations” and moral obligations to address online child abuse. His letter also includes a personal appeal to Musk, who has at least nine children

“I know you are a father so I trust you will take this issue seriously,” Durbin wrote.