On December 6th, The CEOs of some of the biggest social media platforms will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where they will face difficult questions about what their platforms are doing to keep children safe from sexual exploitation and abuse.
Senators Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham on Monday announced bipartisan subpoenas of three executives who were allegedly less than forthcoming with Congress on the issue of child sexual exploitation on their apps: Linda Yaccarino, head of X (formerly Twitter), Snap CEO Evan Spiegel and Jason Citron from Discord. Two other prominent technology executives – TikTok’s Shou Zi and Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg – are expected to appear voluntarily, as the committee is currently in discussion with both companies.
“Big Tech has failed to police itself – at the expense of our children,” Durbin tweeted in announcing the subpoenas. “We are informing our legislative effort to protect children online.” In a follow-up post, he reiterated that CEOs “would have the chance to explain their failures to protect children.”
The senators’ joint press release noted that both X and Discord have been particularly resistant to negotiations over sending leadership to Washington. “In a notable departure from typical practice,” it said, “Discord and .”
X owner Elon Musk and his supporters often claim success in eradicating child sexual exploitation and abuse from the platform, but in reality the company has struggled to understand the problem since Musk destroyed his child safety team. According to some evidence, X has actually gotten worse in this regard: in June, the Stanford Internet Observatory uncovered posts containing known images of child sexual abuse material that should have been automatically flagged and filtered. In July, Musk also reestablish the account from a far-right conspiracy theorist who was suspended for posting child sexual abuse material.
While Musk has been quick to attack people and institutions critical of the way he runs X, he didn’t immediately tweet about the subpoena or child safety on Monday, although he did. get involved with a user who promotes the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, which is based on the false claim that political elites run a child sex ring out of the basement of a DC pizzeria.
NBC News’ Discord chat app investigation revealed in June, has been used by a variety of sexual predators who prey on children, with at least “35 cases in the past six years in which adults have been prosecuted on charges of kidnapping, grooming or sexual assault that allegedly involved communications” in the platform. Sextortion scams targeting minors have also been a problem. “As a parent, it’s horrible,” Citron said in response at the time, insisting that Discord take the threat “very seriously.”
Meanwhile, Snapchat has reportedly seen a increase in child exploitation since 2020. Goal was processed earlier this year by investment funds that own shares in the company for allegedly not doing enough to combat sex trafficking or the sexual exploitation of children. AND some TikTok accounts have been found to function as portals to child sexual abuse material. Across the industry, there is also growing concern about the threat of explicit AI-generated material harming teenagers.
Trust and security teams were among those affected by a wave of Layoffs in Silicon Valley over the past year, further reducing the ability of social platforms to combat hate speech, misinformation and abuse in the midst of a war in the Middle East and ahead of the US presidential election. Whatever the Senate Judiciary Committee finds about moderation deficiencies in December, it could be just the tip of a larger iceberg.