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Tech execs prepare to defend child-safety records

Meta's Mark Zuckerberg

Meta's Mark Zuckerberg arrives at a September forum at the Capitol. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Tech giants are readying for a high-profile hearing over children's online safety, with some companies bolstering their lobbying ranks as lawmakers examine evidence gleaned from lawsuits.

  • Meta's Mark Zuckerberg, TikTok's Shou Chew and Discord's Jason Citron will testify at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday about child sexual exploitation online.
  • Snap's Evan Spiegel and X's Linda Yaccarino will also testify, both for the first time.

What we're watching: Tech companies like to point out their policies' superiority compared to other platforms. That will again be part of their playbook, according to their prepared testimonies and interviews with company officials.

  • Groups that advocate for free speech (and get funding from tech companies) are sure to contend that some proposals could result in chilling online discourse and cut younger users off from important information or communities.

The big picture: Bringing big-name tech executives to the Hill is a sure way to draw national attention and reignite stalemated policy debates.

  • Ahead of the hearing, platforms such as Snap and Microsoft announced support for the Kids Online Safety Act, while others have highlighted actions they're taking to protect kids online.
  • But child advocacy groups say companies aren't doing enough and that regulation is needed.

Zuckerberg will reiterate Meta's support for legislation that provides an age verification system and parental control over the apps their kids use.

  • Meta has also been aggressively campaigning on TV and online on its desire to work with Congress on kids' privacy legislation.
  • Meta is working with Wilmer Hale, its go-to firm for handling federal cases and Congress, for hearing prep, per a source familiar.

Yaccarino, who has had a shaky track record in previous public appearances, is expected to lean into the platform's work to combat CSE through outside partnerships and technical solutions.

Meanwhile, Snap will note that its platform was created as an antidote to traditional social media with a focus on intimate, one-to-one communication between close friends.

  • Discord's is likely to note the chat messaging platform doesn't have ads, a news feed or endless scrolling. It also doesn't count likes and creators can't go viral on the platform.
  • And TikTok is likely to stress how it exceeds the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children's reporting requirements, flagging content that may not strictly be required by law.

Yes, but: Nuance is likely to get lost as lawmakers clamor to give sound bites.

The backstory: In contrast to other platforms' extensive experience on the Hill, Discord just six months ago hired its first VP of public policy, Ross Lajeunesse, to engage on kid safety.

  • Another key hire, John Redgrave, built a machine learning company that Discord acquired, Sentropy, to detect abusive content online.

The other side: Accountable Tech and Design it for Us will hold a rally outside the Capitol following the hearing.

  • Design it for Us is more focused on the harms it says are posed by Meta, Snap and TikTok. But it added in a statement, "That certainly doesn't excuse Discord and X."

Behind the scenes: In a document sent to Judiciary members, Design it for Us stressed a key figure — $270, the amount in profit that Meta estimates it can earn from each 13-year-old who stays on its platform.

  • The number comes from internal documents cited in a lawsuit brought against Meta in October by 32 state attorneys general.
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