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Social Media Legal Moves? Senate Hearings Focus on Accountability

A woman shields the eyes of a boy and a girl looking at a tablet.

Lawmakers call for stronger safety measures to protect young social media users, support KOSA

By George King

In a groundbreaking Senate Judiciary Committee hearing convened Jan. 31, CEOs of leading social media companies faced a barrage of questions regarding the profound impact of their social media platforms on the safety and well-being of young social media users. The hearing, held amid mounting concerns from parents and lawmakers alike, underscored the urgent need for comprehensive action to address the myriad dangers faced by minors in the digital realm.

Social media platforms pose risks to children

The testimony began with poignant recorded accounts from children and parents. The statements revealed harrowing experiences of exploitation and harm suffered on social media platforms. Parents, bearing the unbearable grief of losing children to suicide, silently raised photos of their departed loved ones. This action served as stark reminders of the human toll exacted by online dangers.

According to a report by the National Institutes of Health, roughly 50% of adolescents spend, on average, five hours a day on social media. The negative effects of social media on t teens and younger social media users have become such a concern that the U.S. Surgeon General issued an advisory opinion and report in 2023. The advisory opinion stressed the need for lawmakers and policy officials to better protect young users and their privacy and exposure to certain content. The advisory opinion stated that about two-thirds (64%) of “adolescents are “often” or “sometimes” exposed to hate based content.”

KOSA aims to protect kids, has bipartisan backing

Senator Dick Durbin, chairing the committee, minced no words in condemning social media companies for prioritizing profit over basic safety, citing their design choices and inadequate investment in trust and safety measures as key contributors to the risks faced by children. His sentiments were echoed by Senator Lindsay Graham, who described social media platforms as “dangerous products” and emphasized the imperative to confront their dark side.

Amid the heated exchanges, a rare show of bipartisan unity emerged. Both Republican and Democratic senators expressed a shared commitment to addressing the pressing issue. Senator Josh Hawley’s pointed questioning of Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg underscored the need for accountability on Facebook and Instagram, while calls for legislative action, such as the proposed Kids Online Safety Act, known as KOSA, resonated across party lines.

Related: Protecting Yourself and Your Kids Online – Staying Safe in Cyberspace

While they acknowledged existing safety tools and collaborations with law enforcement touted by social media executives, child health advocates stressed the inadequacy of these measures, pressing for independent regulation to ensure robust protections for minors. Meta’s recent efforts to bolster child safety features were acknowledged, yet concerns lingered about broader industry accountability.

Popular social media platform was missing

The absence of YouTube from the discussion raised eyebrows. This is significant, given YouTube’s significant base of young social media users, highlighting the need for greater scrutiny of its role in safeguarding minors. Interestingly, YouTube appears to be the most commonly used social media platform among teens, with 95% of teens 13-17 reporting use of the platform in a Pew research study. As policymakers grapple with potential solutions, the imperative to prioritize child safety in the digital age has never been clearer.

In the face of daunting challenges, the resounding message from the hearing was one of unity and determination among lawmakers sympathetic to the plight of young people. With bipartisan cooperation and a shared sense of urgency, the Senate hearings signified that there may be hope for meaningful progress in holding social media companies accountable and ensuring safer social media platforms for all.


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