Butler Presses Big Tech CEOs On Their Negligence In Protecting Kids From Harmful Online Content

Senator Pushes CEOs To Be Accountable to Families On Drug Access, Mental Health On Social Media

Washington, D.C. – Today, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled “Protecting Our Children Online: Big Tech and the Crisis of Online Child Sexual Exploitation,” U.S. Senator Laphonza Butler (D-Calif.) pushed Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg, TikTok’s Shou Zi Chew, Snap’s Evan Spiegel, Discord’s Jason Citron, and X’s Linda Yaccarino about their failure to protect kids from being marketed illicit substances, suffering from sexual exploitation, and being exposed to harmful content online. At the hearing, Butler noted the lack of safeguards in place to adequately protect youth on digital platforms and stressed the need for these Big Tech companies to support legislation that will keep these children safe.

From examples of children accessing drugs online, to the harmful effects of distorted and skin-lightening filters on mental health, Senator Butler pressed the CEOs for answers about what they are doing to address these problems and keep children and minors safe.

“I’ve talked with all of you about what it means to be a good neighbor and what California families and American families should be expecting from you,” said Senator Butler. “You owe them more than just a set of statistics, and I look forward to all of you showing up on pieces of legislation to keep our children safe.”

Since taking office, Senator Butler has worked to champion key issues affecting young people in keeping with her promise to fight for the next generation. Yesterday, she joined colleagues in reintroducing bipartisan legislation to confront online child exploitation and reverse a decade of underfunding key enforcement and prevention efforts. Butler also held youth roundtables across California to talk about youth mental health, economic opportunity, and democracy. In her first 100 days, Senator Butler signed onto legislation that aims to make a brighter future for the next generation of Californians, including the Youth Voting Rights Act which would allow people to pre-register to vote at sixteen, and the Protect Vulnerable Immigrant Youth Act which would strengthen protections for children at the border.

In case you missed it, a full transcript of Butler’s questioning can be found below:

Sen. Butler: Thank you Mr. Chair and thank you to our panelists who have come to have an important conversation with us. Most importantly I want to appreciate the families who have shown up to continue to be remarkable champions of your children and your loved ones for being here, and in particular to California families that I was able to just talk to during the break. The families of Sammy Chapman from Los Angeles and Daniel Puerta from Santa Clarita. They are here today and are doing some incredible work to not just protect the memory and legacy of their boys, but the work that they’re doing is going to protect my nine-year-old and that is indeed why we are here. There are a couple questions that I want to ask some individuals. Let me start with a question for each of you.

Sen. Butler: Mr. Citron, have you ever sat with a family and talked about their experiences and what they need from your product. Yes or No?

Mr. Citron: Yes, I have spoken with parents about how we can build tools to help them –

Sen. Butler: Mr. Spiegel, have you sat with families and young people to talk about your products and what they need from your product?

Mr. Spiegel: Yes, Senator.

Sen. Butler: Mr. Chew?

Mr. Chew: Yes, I just did it two weeks ago. For example-

Sen. Butler: I don’t want to know what you did for the hearing prep Mr. Chew, I just want to know if you did anything in terms of designing the product that you are creating. Mr. Zuckerberg, have you sat with parents and young people to talk about how you design product for your consumers?

Mr. Zuckerberg: Yes, over the years I’ve had a lot of conversations with parents –

Sen. Butler: You know, that’s interesting Mr. Zuckerberg, because we talked about this last night and you gave me a very different answer. I asked you this very question.

Mr. Zuckerberg: Well, I told you that I wasn’t – that I didn’t know what specific processes our company –

Sen. Butler: No, Mr. Zuckerberg, you said to me that you had not.

Mr. Zuckerberg: I must have misspoke.

Sen. Butler: I want to give you the room to misspeak, Mr. Zuckerberg, but I asked you this very question. I asked all of you this question, and you told me a very different answer when we spoke, but I won’t belabor it. Can I? A number of you have talked about-I’m sorry, X… Miss Yaccarino have you talked to parents directly [or] young people about designing your product?

Ms. Yaccarino: As a new leader of X, the answer is yes. I’ve spoken to them about the behavioral patterns because less than 1% of our users are in that age group. But yes, I have spoken to them.

Sen. Butler: Thank you, ma’am. Mr. Spiegel, there are a number of parents whose children have been able to access illegal drugs on your platform. What do you say to those parents?

Mr. Spiegel: Senator, we are devastated that we cannot –

Sen. Butler: To the parents. What do you say to those parents? Mr. Spiegel?

Mr. Spiegel: I’m so sorry that we have not been able to prevent these tragedies. We work very hard to block all search terms related to drugs from our platform. We proactively look for and detect drug-related content. We remove it from our platform, preserve it as evidence, and then we refer it to law enforcement for action. We’ve worked together with nonprofits and with families on education campaigns because the scale of the fentanyl epidemic is extraordinary. Over 100,000 people lost their lives last year and we believe people need to know that one pill can kill. That campaign reached more than 200-was viewed more than 260 million times on Snapchat.

Sen. Butler: Mr. Spiegel, there are two fathers in this room who lost their sons. They’re 16 years old. Their children were able to get those pills from Snapchat. I know that there are statistics, and I know that there are good efforts. None of those efforts are keeping our kids from getting access to those drugs on your platform. As California companies, all of you, I’ve talked with you about what it means to be a good neighbor and what California families and American families should be expecting from you. You owe them more than just a set of statistics, and I look forward to all of you showing up on pieces of legislation to keep our children safe. Mr. Zuckerberg, I want to come back to you. I talked with you about being a parent to a young child who doesn’t have a phone, is not on social media at all. And one of the things that I am deeply concerned with as a parent to a young black girl is the utilization of filters on your platform that would suggest to young girls…that they are not good enough as they are. I want to ask more specifically and refer to some unredacted court documents that reveal your own researchers concluded that these face filters that mimic plastic surgery negatively impact youth mental health indeed. Why should we believe that you are going to do more to protect young women and young girls when…you give them the tools to affirm the self-hate that is spewed across your platforms? Why is it that we should believe that you are committed to doing anything more to keep our children safe?

Mr. Zuckerberg: Sorry, there’s a lot to unpack there.

Sen. Butler: There is a lot.

Mr. Zuckerberg: We give people tools to express themselves in different ways and people use face filters and different tools to make media and photos and videos that are fun or interesting across a lot of different products that are interesting.

Sen. Butler: Plastic surgery pins are good tools to express creativity?

Mr. Zuckerberg: Senator, I’m not speaking –

Sen. Butler: Skin-lightening tools are tools that express creativity? This is the direct thing that I’m asking you about.

Mr. Zuckerberg: I’m not defending any specific one of those. I think that the ability to kind of filter and edit images is generally a useful tool for expression. For that specifically, I’m not familiar with the study that you’re referring to, but we did make it so that we’re not recommending this type of content to teens.

Sen. Butler: I made no reference to a study, to court documents that revealed your knowledge of the impact of these types of filters on young people generally young girls and –

Mr. Zuckerberg: Senator, I disagree with that characterization. There have been hypotheses –

Sen. Butler: With court documents?

Mr. Zuckerberg: I haven’t seen any document.

Sen. Butler: Okay, Mr. Zuckerberg, my time is up. I hope that you hear what is being offered to you and are prepared to step up and do better. I know this Senate committee is going to do our work to hold you to greater account. Thank you, Mr. Chair.



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