For years, harms like sexual exploitation, bullying, content about suicide, fentanyl trafficking, and other harms have spread on social media sites like wildfire, hurting teenagers and children most of all.
But, repeatedly, Big Tech companies — from Snapchat to YouTube, to Facebook/Instagram, to TikTok — have disregarded how platforms continue to expose minors to child predators, harmful content, and drug dealers.
Only last month, internal documents newly released revealed Meta executives refused to take action after learning their algorithms connected potential child predators with children and that an estimated 100,000 minors were receiving content that is sexually abusive from adults on platforms — daily.
This failure to protect our nation’s children is inexcusable for most Americans.
However, for social media sites, minors aren’t a priority; they are a product. The more time minors spend on social media platforms — sucked in by infinite scrolling, never-ending push notifications, and addictive algorithms — the more data collected by Big Tech, the more money they make.
According to the documents from the 42-state lawsuit, the company assigned a “lifetime value” of each 13-year-old user of $270 and said tweens are a “valuable but untapped market.”
Simultaneously, the tech giant removed safety tools meant to combat harmful content, withheld damaging information about how millions of teens face sexual abuse, bullying, and content about eating disorders on its platforms from congressional oversight, and dismantled teams responsible for the safety of children.
One thing is crystal clear: The business model of Big Tech puts profits over the safety of children. It is far past time these social media companies are held accountable.
GOP Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Democrat Senator of Connecticut, Senator Richard Blumenthal, have crafted the Kids Online Safety Act to provide children and parents with safeguards, transparency, and tools needed to protect against harm online.
This bipartisan legislation includes critical provisions to hold social media companies responsible; new controls for families to support their children, including opting out of algorithm recommendations; mandator audits to ensure platforms are reducing harm to children; and new tools for parents to pinpoint harmful behavior and report abuse to social media sites directly.
But more critically, the legislation would create a duty of care for platforms online to mitigate and prevent specific dangers to minors, including the promotion of eating disorders, substance abuse, suicide, and sexual exploitation.
This legislation is necessary now more than ever, particularly after the five Big Tech companies’ CEOs — Discord, Snap, Meta, and TikTok —testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week and continued to make excuses for their extensive failures to protect children online.
When Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg was asked how a “vast pedophile network” was allowed to grow online on Instagram, including content that showed teenagers “for sale” to older men, the CEO was not able to explain how the content doesn’t violate the terms of service of Meta.
Instead, Zuckerberg maintained his company is not “perfect.”
That is no comfort to the numerous parents countrywide who have lost their children because of harm on social media. One such mother is Tennessee mother Gail Flatt, whose 14-year-old daughter, Sarah, committed suicide after being addicted to social media and suffering from bullying online.
Last week, Flatt, as well as several other parents, went to the nation’s capital to call for Big Tech to take accountability for their platforms so that no other parent has to experience the massive tragedy of watching their child die after facing sexual exploitation, bullying, the solicitation of illicit drug, and different types of abuse on social media platforms.
More than anything else, the stories of these parents are creating momentum for real change, including the Kids Online Safety Act. Big Tech must be held accountable for ensuring children can be free to be children again.