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Capitol Hill

Social media CEOs set for Senate grilling

Chief executives from some of the world’s biggest social media companies will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee today about their platforms’ efforts — or lack thereof — to protect children from sexual exploitation.

The committee will hear testimony from the following CEOs: Linda Yaccarino of X, Shou Zi Chew of TikTok, Evan Spiegel of Snap, Mark Zuckerberg of Meta and Jason Citron of Discord.

The blockbuster hearing is sure to turn into a high-profile grilling of the tech execs. We expect several of the morning news shows will be broadcasting from the hearing, which shows you how much public attention there is.

Senators on both sides of the aisle have long argued that social media platforms haven’t done enough to shield children from harmful content, contending that they’re often magnets for sexual predators. However, the Senate hasn’t passed major legislation addressing children’s online safety, despite widespread bipartisan agreement and committee-level action on different bills.

In the run-up to the hearing, several companies, including Snapchat and Microsoft, endorsed the Kids Online Safety Act, a bill offered by Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

“I am sure every member of the Senate has heard from constituents, friends and family members about the harms Big Tech is inflicting on our kids,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Tuesday. “Tomorrow, the Senate Judiciary Committee will demand answers.”

“I can’t believe that in America in 2024, the largest businesses in the history of mankind — social media — are unregulated, there’s not one law on the books protecting consumers, and you can’t sue ‘em,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, told CBS News.

But senators are also signaling that the scope of the hearing could go way beyond that. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), for example, will have his first chance to directly question Chew, the CEO of TikTok, a platform Hawley has tried to ban from the United States.

“They need to come prepared to be held to account for the full spectrum of their behavior,” Hawley said. “I hope [Chew] comes prepared to answer questions more forthrightly than he did last time. His appearance in front of the House was just an embarrassment.”

Hawley is referring to Chew’s testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee last March, during which lawmakers from both parties excoriated Chew over TikTok’s China ties as well as its handling of Americans’ data.

There was a groundswell of support for taking action against TikTok after that hearing, but nothing ever came of it.

— Andrew Desiderio

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Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.