The Big Tech Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing Was a Circus, and Creators Need To Pay Attention

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The Senate Judiciary Committee met today to grill five tech CEOs on the topic of “Big Tech and the online child sexual exploitation crisis.” As you might expect from the incredibly evenhandedly named topic of the hearing, it was largely a clown show trainwreck.

Linda Yaccarino of X, Jason Citron of Discord, Mark Zuckerberg of Meta, Shou Zi Chew of TikTok, and Evan Spiegel of Snap were each subpoenaed by the Judiciary Committee and agreed to testify. 

Understandably, some creators may think this has nothing to do with them. However, hearings like this are vital to the future of pending legislation that could impact your career. So let’s run down why it matters. 

You can find the prepared testimony from each CEO below, courtesy of the Judiciary Committee.

Each of these platforms has been accused of allowing and helping to spread child exploitation. Despite each platform touting efforts to protect children on their platforms, today’s hearing was a divisive one. But at least it was bipartisanly divisive. 

So, What Happened Today At The Senate Judiciary Committee?

Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) originally subpoenaed the CEOs citing “repeated refusals to appear during several weeks of negotiations.” In Sen. Durbin’s opening statement, the Senator referred to child exploitation as a crisis in America. This technology, he claimed, provided “powerful new tools” for predators. 

In his opening statement, Sen. Durbin claimed of these companies, “their design choices, their failures to adequately invest in trust and safety, and their constant pursuit of engagement and profit over basic safety have all put our kids and grandkids at risk.” 

Things did not calm down when things were handed over to Sen. Graham, who told Mark Zuckerberg, “you have blood on your hands.” The room clapped.  

Kicking off with a video featuring families whose children have been the victims of exploitation on these platforms, today’s hearing was a frustrating example of why children fall through the cracks. 

Yes, there is a problem with child exploitation on these platforms, and it is also true that companies like Meta have done the bare minimum to stop it. In the past, the company has outsourced its moderation to overworked and undertrained offices. With its recent launch of Threads, it claims users should moderate themselves

But rather than having a sober and nuanced conversation about the areas where these companies can improve, today was a circus. Senators yelled and grandstanded, fighting to get clips they should share on social media at the expense of accomplishing anything. The audience in attendance didn’t help, often laughing and clapping during each Senator’s opening statements. 

Zuckerberg, Spiegel, Shou Chew, Citron, and Yaccarino did their best to highlight the safety steps each platform has taken. However, the issues the Senate wanted to talk about often revealed long-standing biases and political goals. 

Grandstanding By Members Of The Senate Judiciary Committee Without Doing Much Good

For example, conservative and liberal leaders have long demanded repealing Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act. Section 230 provides limited federal immunity protecting these companies from being sued for illegal content that users post. Today, Senators demanded each CEO support repealing or reforming Section 230, which they wisely would not do. 

Other senators used the opportunity to grandstand about pet political beefs, such as Tom Cotton’s war on China. Here’s him trying to figure out whether TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, a citizen of the sovereign nation of Singapore, is a Chinese citizen. 

Occasionally, senators made thoughtful and useful observations. Sen. Peter Welch, D-VT, acknowledged the work these companies have done before questioning Meta CEO Zuckerberg about layoffs in their trust and safety departments. Meta laid off over 100 workers in that department last May. 

Unfortunately, for every moment of thoughtful commentary, there were four moments like Sen. Cotton’s Commie Hunt or Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-TN, claiming Facebook is the premiere sex trafficking site in the country

What Wasn’t Talked About?

As creators, it’s important to note that almost every senator who spoke today talked about ways these platforms should make your life more difficult. But there was no discussion about the root causes of any of these issues. Child sexual exploitation is a serious issue. But at no point did anyone on the government side acknowledge why kids are spending more time on their phones. 

Americans are working longer hours than ever before, and even in families with two parents at home in 2022, 65 percent of those households required both parents to work. Kids spend more time away from their parents and even less time with their friends than previous generations. We’ve destroyed community centers, teens can’t go to the mall, our cities aren’t walkable, and if you loiter, you can be arrested. 

For all the threats about China and predators and drug dealers made today, not one single person in a position of political power acknowledged the contributing factors that make kids and teens so online today.

So why does that matter to you as a creator? 

The average age of senators in the 118th Congress is 64 years old. There isn’t representation on the Senate Judiciary Committee by creators. These are old people talking about technologies they often don’t use, to get votes from people who don’t understand the technology. These votes can impact your ability to work. Especially if they manage to pass KOSA later this year. 

What is KOSA?

The proposed Kids Online Safety Act, aka KOSA, purports to protect kids from ads and content that push eating disorders, drugs, self-harm, suicide, and violence from children’s accounts. On paper, that is great. However, despite its good intentions, KOSA isn’t without its own problems. Lawmakers still haven’t decided how these protections will go into place, but ideas like requiring users to upload their IDs to use a site like Twitter have free speech implications. 

Of the CEOs present today, only Snapchat’s Spiegel came out in support of KOSA

Why You Need to Vote and Write Your Leaders

I’m going to tell anyone here what party to support because, frankly, after watching today’s hearings, both sides are the issue. But more than that, the senators’ refusal to understand youth culture is the issue. No one walked away with any hard answers today, but the sound bites that were needed for cable news got made. That’s the biggest takeaway of the day. 

However, this is an important moment for creators to start paying attention to politics, especially in a presidential election year. The leadership of America realizes parents are understandably freaking out about the dangers present online. And, rather than have a sober and nuanced conversation about how to fix things, they’re painting with a very broad brush, threatening First Amendment speech, and pushing legislation that could make these platforms even harder to navigate. 

So Why Should I Care?

So, rather than endorse anyone specific, let us endorse the idea of giving a damn about who represents you. Pay attention to the people running for political office locally and on the state and national level. Write to their offices to tell them where you stand on issues like KOSA, online censorship, and social media regulation. 

We are all going to have different viewpoints on this matter. It’s not my job to tell you who to vote for. But if you’re a creator who sees politics as boring and not part of your life, you need to know it’s absolutely going to become part of your life. 

Political figures are already mobilizing to change the creator space as we know it. And creators aren’t the ones being invited by the Senate Judiciary Committee to the discussion. CEOs who want to protect their billion-dollar companies are. And at the end of the day, CEOs care more about their bottom line than your freedom of speech and creator platform. 

Today was but a yelling match in the coming war for creator’s rights and free speech. But it was a good reminder that when you hear yelling, you should pay attention.

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