Social Media Execs to Face Senators 10/26 06:09
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Bearing down on hugely popular social media platforms and
their impact on children, the leaders of a Senate panel have called executives
from YouTube, TikTok and Snapchat to face questions on what their companies are
doing to ensure young users' safety.
The Senate Commerce subcommittee on consumer protection is fresh off a
highly charged hearing with a former Facebook data scientist, who laid out
internal company research showing that the company's Instagram photo-sharing
service appears to seriously harm some teens.
The panel is widening its focus to examine other tech platforms, with
millions or billions of users, that also compete for young people's attention
The three executives -- Michael Beckerman, a TikTok vice president and head
of public policy for the Americas; Leslie Miller, vice president for government
affairs and public policy of YouTube's owner Google; and Jennifer Stout, vice
president for global public policy of Snapchat parent Snap Inc. -- are due to
appear at a subcommittee hearing Tuesday.
The three platforms are woven into the fabric of young people's lives, often
influencing their dress, dance moves and diet, potentially to the point of
obsession. Peer pressure to get on the apps is strong. Social media can offer
entertainment and education, but platforms have been misused to harm children
and promote bullying, vandalism in schools, eating disorders and manipulative
marketing, lawmakers say.
"We need to understand the impact of popular platforms like Snapchat, TikTok
and YouTube on children and what companies can do better to keep them safe,"
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., the subcommittee's chairman, said in a
The panel wants to learn how algorithms and product designs can magnify harm
to children, foster addiction and intrusions of privacy, Blumenthal says. The
aim is to develop legislation to protect young people and give parents tools to
protect their children.
The video platform TikTok, wildly popular with teens and younger children,
is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance. In only five years since launching,
it has gained an estimated 1 billion monthly users.
TikTok denies allegations, most notably from conservative Republican
lawmakers, that it operates at the behest of the Chinese government and
provides it with users' personal data. The company says it stores all TikTok
U.S. data in the United States. The company also rejects criticisms of
promoting harmful content to children.
TikTok says it has tools in place, such as screen time management, to help
young people and parents moderate how long children spend on the app and what
they see. The company says it focuses on age-appropriate experiences, noting
that some features, such as direct messaging, are not available to younger
Early this year after federal regulators ordered TikTok to disclose how its
practices affect children and teenagers, the platform tightened its privacy
practices for the under-18 crowd.
A separate House committee has investigated video service YouTube Kids this
year. Lawmakers said the YouTube offshoot feeds children inappropriate material
in "a wasteland of vapid, consumerist content" so it can serve ads to them. The
app, with both video hosting and original shows, is available in about 70
A panel of the House Oversight and Reform Committee told YouTube CEO Susan
Wojcicki that the service doesn't do enough to protect children from
potentially harmful material. Instead it relies on artificial intelligence and
self-policing by content creators to decide which videos make it onto the
platform, the panel's chairman said in a letter to Wojcicki.
Parent company Google agreed to pay $170 million in 2019 settlements with
the Federal Trade Commission and New York state of allegations that YouTube
collected personal data on children without their parents' consent.
Despite changes made after the settlements, the lawmaker's letter said,
YouTube Kids still shows ads to children.
YouTube says it has worked to provide children and families with protections
and parental controls like time limits, to limit viewing to age-appropriate
content. It emphasizes that the 2019 settlements involved the primary YouTube
platform, not the kids' version.
"We took action on more than 7 million accounts in the first three quarters
of 2021 when we learned they may belong to a user under the age of 13 -- 3
million of those in the third quarter alone -- as we have ramped up our
automated removal efforts," Miller, the Google vice president, says in written
testimony prepared for the hearing.
Snap Inc.'s Snapchat service allows people to send photos, videos and
messages that are meant to quickly disappear, an enticement to its young users
seeking to avoid snooping parents and teachers. Hence its "Ghostface Chillah"
faceless (and word-less) white logo.
Only 10 years old, Snapchat says an eye-popping 90% of 13- to 24-year-olds
in the U.S. use the service. It reported 306 million daily users in the
The company agreed in 2014 to settle the FTC's allegations that it deceived
users about how effectively the shared material vanished and that it collected
users' contacts without telling them or asking permission. The messages, known
as "snaps," could be saved by using third-party apps or other ways, the
Snapchat wasn't fined but agreed to establish a privacy program to be
monitored by an outside expert for the next 20 years -- similar to oversight
imposed on Facebook, Google and Myspace in privacy settlements in recent years.