Snap, TikTok and YouTube will detail on Tuesday the steps they’ve taken to protect children to a potentially skeptical audience: a Senate subcommittee that has already expressed concerns that Facebook is unhealthy for kids.
Chaired by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, the consumer protection subcommittee will meet with the policy heads of the three companies to discuss how their platforms might aggravate harmful behavior, addictions and invade privacy. The description of the hearing, titled Protecting Kids Online: Snapchat, TikTok, and YouTube, suggests the participants won’t be made comfortable. It specifically notes that social media apps “have been misused to harm kids and promote destructive acts, such as vandalism in schools, deadly viral challenges, bullying, eating disorders, manipulative influencer marketing, and grooming.”
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The hearing comes amid heightened scrutiny of social media giant Facebook, which is the subject of a series of stories based on leaked documents that suggest the company knows about the harm its platforms cause to the mental health of teenagers, as well as democracy and developing countries. Frances Haugen, the former Facebook product manager who collected the cache of internal research and communications, has already testified before the Senate subcommittee. She also testified to Parliament on Monday.
Haugen, who first revealed herself as the Facebook whistleblower in October, has said she saw conflicts of interests between Facebook’s business objectives and user safety during her time at the company. Facebook has said its internal research is being mischaracterized.
Snap will be represented by Jennifer Stout, the vice president of global public policy; TikTok by Michael Beckerman, vice president and head of public policy, Americas; and YouTube by Leslie Miller, vice president of government affairs and public policy. (YouTube is owned by Google, a subsidiary of Alphabet.)
In prepared remarks, YouTube plans to tell Congress that it removed 7 million accounts believed to belong to young children and preteens in the first three quarters. Roughly 3 million of those removals came in the third quarter as the company had “ramped up our automated removal efforts.” (For context, YouTube has more than 2 billion accounts that actively visit YouTube each month.)
“TikTok cares deeply about the safety and well-being of minors, and we look forward to continuing an open dialogue with this committee on our shared priority of keeping teens safe online,” Beckerman said in a statement. The company didn’t provide its prepared remarks.
Snap didn’t respond to an inquiry about its prepared remarks.
Here’s what you need to know:
The hearing will begin on Tuesday at 10 a.m. ET/7 a.m. PT.
What to expect
Hostility from both sides of the aisle. Neither Democrats nor Republicans have much love for Big Tech, particularly social media, at the moment.
Democrats complain that social media companies do little to stamp out hate speech, bullying and disinformation. Republicans blast social media as biased, censoring conservative points of view.
Hearings are as much political theater as they are forums for inquiry. Possibly more. So expect plenty of grandstanding and tub thumping.