Oct 26, 2021 - Technology

"We're not Facebook" argument falls flat on Hill

Animated illustration of a hand cursor pushing a gavel offscreen
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Senators weren't buying an effort by TikTok, YouTube and Snapchat to argue that they are different from Facebook and Instagram at a hearing on children's online safety Tuesday.

Driving the news: Senators from both parties spent the Senate Commerce consumer protection subcommittee hearing urging executives to go on the record supporting various legislative changes to laws covering online content liability, privacy and children's safety.

  • The company representatives mostly demurred, saying they supported the "goals" and "spirit" of various bills but couldn't commit to outright support.

What they're saying: "Being different from Facebook is not a defense. That bar is in the gutter. What we want is not a race to the bottom, but a race to the top," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

  • Blumenthal wants companies to disclose more about their products and offer more tools for parents to control their kids' online experiences.

Lawmakers bore down on Snapchat, YouTube and TikTok, citing stories about eating disorder content, suicide tutorials and dangerous challenges on all three apps.

  • “The true victims — the mom in Duluth who can’t get her kid off Facebook to do her homework. The dad mourning losing a child to a Snap speed filter that measured him, the kid, at going 123 miles per hour trying to beat the filter. Or the child exposed to content glorifying eating disorders on TikTok,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

The bottom line: The companies all agreed to submit internal research on their algorithms and product decisions' impact on users to Congress.

Be smart: Getting tech-related legislation through Congress is incredibly difficult, but the legislators' anger over kids encountering harmful content on Facebook was palpable.

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