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Senators try to pin down Big Tech on backing bills

Mark Zuckerberg testifies at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing

Zuckerberg testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Senators used a fiery Wednesday hearing with Silicon Valley's top executives to attempt to win commitments on specific bills aimed at protecting kids online.

Why it matters: High-profile hearings may not produce substantive policy discussions, but they're a pressure tactic that can help move the needle.

  • Here's what stood out to us at today's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

1) Senators demanded endorsements for their bills — right now. The leaders of Meta, X, TikTok, Discord and Snap ran through the laundry list of policies they're implementing to help protect children on their platforms.

  • But lawmakers remained unsatisfied and called for further regulation, highlighting bills that have remained stalled.
  • "I just want to get this stuff done. I'm so tired of this. It's been 28 years. And the reason they haven't passed is because of the power of your companies," Sen. Amy Klobuchar said.
  • CEOs expressed support for certain bills and a willingness to cooperate on improving others.

2. The first winners. X's Linda Yaccarino announced during the hearing that X endorses Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin's Stop CSAM Act, becoming the first social media platform to do so.

  • X also endorsed the Kids Online Safety Act, which would require platforms to enable the strongest safety settings by default.
  • The Stop CSAM Act would expand protections for child victims in federal court.
  • Here's our look at the other bills in the mix.

3) The crowd in the room was tense — and loud. The audience, which Durbin said is the largest he has seen, played a key role in applying pressure.

  • The families of children whose parents say they were exploited online and activists filled the room, audibly reacting to exchanges between lawmakers and executives.
  • When Meta's Mark Zuckerberg said "the existing body of scientific work has not shown any causal link between using social media and young people having worse mental health," audience members laughed.
  • Though studies on the links between youth mental health and social media have had varying conclusions, Meta's own researchers have had reservations about the impact of their products on vulnerable teens, reporting has shown.

4) Zuckerberg on defense. He pushed back against lawmakers more strongly today compared to past hearings, brushing off questions he perceived as a trap and defending Meta's products.

5) Never say you're new to this. Discord has stressed the platform is new to D.C. and just now getting around to understanding legislative efforts.

  • That did not sit well with lawmakers: "If you wait for these guys to solve the problem, we're going to die waiting," Judiciary ranking member Lindsey Graham told Discord's Jason Citron.
  • Citron wouldn't commit to supporting a variety of bills. Neither would other panel members whom lawmakers pressed.
  • "I'm much more interested in if you support [bills] because there's been so much talk in these hearings and popcorn throwing and the like," Klobuchar said in an exchange with Citron.
  • Klobuchar is a cosponsor of the SHIELD Act, which would make criminally liable people who distribute others' private or explicit images online without consent.

6) Senators kept blaming the tech executives for the Hill's failures. Tech lobbying is powerful on Capitol Hill — but lawmakers are ultimately responsible for transcending money in politics and getting legislation passed.

7) More bills are on the way. Sen. Mike Lee announced during the hearing that he will introduce later on Wednesday the Protect Act, which would require websites to verify age and a process for removing non consensual pornographic imagery.

  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on which bills are likely to get votes. He has previously expressed support for legislation to protect kids online.
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