Things got personal Thursday during a virtual congressional hearing to obtain online disinformation testimony from three of the world’s most powerful CEOs, and lawmakers demanded to know what concerns Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and the CEO had. Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai on the impact of social media on his own. children.
The issue of protecting children’s well-being, and mental health in particular, emerged as a main topic at the hearing before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which also featured Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, then from recent reports that Facebook’s Instagram (FB) is developing a sister photo. -Exchange platform for children under 13 years of age.
Google’s Facebook and YouTube (GOOG, GOOGL) have already launched sister products designed for children.
“What do you say when one of your children doesn’t want to put down the phone?” Representative Lori Trahan (D-MA) asked Pichai, after accusing Google and Facebook of doing a “bad job” of keeping children under 13 off their platforms and actively incorporating children into their ecosystems using YouTube Kids and Facebook Messenger Kids.
“The fight is the same, and particularly through COVID it has been, it has been difficult to moderate it,” Pichai said after previously saying that he is concerned about the amount of time his children spend online. “And I take advantage of parental controls and digital wellness tools so that we can limit time on their apps and therefore we have provisions.”
‘You are charting your next growth frontier’
Zuckerberg told the committee that his children, ages 3 and 5, do not use social media and that his company was designing tools for parents to be in control.
“I think we’ve shown that it can be a good and safe experience, and I think that was one of the things that made us think we should consider doing this for Instagram,” Zuckerberg said, explaining that Facebook was still thinking about how the service would work. .
The CEO of Twitter also did not get a free pass when accounting for how his platform protects children. Committee members repeatedly pressured CEOs to respond to allegations that their platforms are used to share images and videos of child exploitation. They were also asked about the impact on the mental health of children who spend too much time on their services and why, in the case of Facebook, it is creating a version of Instagram for children under 13 years of age.
“He’s charting his next growth frontier,” said Bill Johnson (R-OH). “Big tech is essentially handing our kids a lit cigarette and hoping they’ll remain addicted for life,” added Johnson, comparing the addictive qualities of social media to Big Tobacco.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) Hypothesized that an increase in teen suicide in her district could be directly related to teen social media use, and pushed the trio of CEOs to answer if their companies had investigated the impact of social networks on younger users.
“Too much screen and social media time leads to loneliness and despair, and it seems to be an accepted truth in the tech industry. Because what we hear today is that making money is more important, ”said Rodgers.
Zuckerberg withdrew to the lines in questioning saying that users who spend time online, connecting with people, are in fact less alone.
Google’s CEO also faced a tough line of questions about YouTube, which he owns, and Representative Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA) raised concerns about YouTube ads targeting children. In 2019, Google and YouTube paid a record $ 170 million fine to resolve claims by the Federal Trade Commission and the New York Attorney General that they collected personal information from children without their consent.
Pichai said YouTube had removed about 1 million videos due to child safety concerns and is compliant with regulations.
“There are scenarios where it could have been family viewing, and today there are creators creating family-oriented content, and as part of that there are advertisers who are interested in connecting with those users,” Pichai said.
There are no solutions in Section 230
Committee members also raised the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol, as well as a mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado and the wave of shootings in Atlanta as evidence that social media is not yet doing enough to limit the spread of violent extremist content. .
For their part, Zuckerberg, Dorsey and Pichai said they continue to work to reduce such content and limit its distribution on their networks.
Substantive discussions were expected at the hearing on solutions on how to fix Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a law passed in 1996. The law, which provides liability protection for websites and platforms that host user-generated content and allowing sites to moderate that content, it has become the main target of both Democrats and Republicans.
Many Democrats say it allows social media sites to allow extremist content on their platforms without fear of repercussions, while Republicans maintain that it censors conservative voices.
Zuckerberg, Pichai and Dorsey each offered their own opinions on how to approach the law, with Zuckerberg saying it should be changed for larger companies, Pichai calling for more transparency in moderation, and Dorsey proposing an open source social media protocol. The committee members, however, did not offer much in terms of their own proposals.
Representatives also continued to disagree on what exactly they are so vehemently disagree with when it comes to Section 230. And while they raised important questions about the impact of social media on children, until lawmakers can explain your problem with the law, it won’t change.
Alexis Keenan is a legal reporter for Yahoo Finance and a former trial attorney. Follow Alexis Keenan on Twitter @alexiskweed.
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