Senators Continue Push to Protect Children From Social Media Harm With Bipartisan Legislation

On November 7, 2023, former Facebook engineering director and Instagram consultant Arturo Bejar testified before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and Law that Meta officials failed to protect young Instagram users from the harm they experienced on the platform. 

Bejar, the second whistleblower to come forward against Meta, testified that Meta executives were aware of the harm Instagram was causing, especially to young users, and chose not to make any changes to address them. 

“Meta continues to publicly misrepresent the level and frequency of harm that users, especially children, experience on the platform, And they have yet to establish a goal for actually reducing those harms and protecting children.” 

The subcommittee hearing was part of a bipartisan effort in Congress to establish online protections for children. Chairman Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, and Senator Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican, first introduced the “Kids Online Safety Act” in February 2022. The bill established specific guidelines to help protect minors on social media platforms and was reintroduced by Senators Blumenthal and Blackburn in May of 2023. 

During the hearing, Senators expressed continued concern about the harms of social media and communicated the need for legislation, like the “Kids Online Safety Act,” to protect young people on the platforms. 

Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO):

“The numbers are really stunning that one in four teenagers, minor children will experience sexual solicitation on Meta’s platforms. At some point. One in eight say that they have experienced unwanted sexual advances. We’re talking about children now. These are not adults. Children have experienced unwanted sexual advances just in the last week within the last seven days, and of course we know from Meta’s own internal research that they knew the extent of this problem even as they were ignoring you.” – Senator Josh Hawley

Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL):

“Let me follow up with Senator Hawley’s comments. I couldn’t agree more. I could not agree more. And in the Senate Judiciary Committee, after some graphic hearings where parents and victims came forward and told us what had happened to them online, we decided to take action. We passed six bills related to this issue, child sexual abuse and similar issues, six bills and something happening that was miraculous. All six passed unanimously. Every Democrat and every Republican take a look at the folks who are up into the table. It’s across the political spectrum. We all agreed on this.” – Senator Dick Durbin

Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN):

“Big tech has proven they are completely incapable of governing themselves, of setting up rules, of having guidelines, of designing for safety, and it is so important that we move forward with this.” – Senator Marsha Blackburn

Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-IL):

“Big tech is the next big tobacco. I fought big tobacco in the 1990s. I sued big tobacco, I urged Congress to act the same kind of addictive product. That big tobacco pedaled to kids now is advanced to them and promoted and pitched by big tech and we need to break the rait jacket they’ve imposed through their armies of lobbies and lawyers.” – Senator Richard Blumenthal

Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO):

“There’s one example of a parent in my home state of Missouri who wanted to post something about a school board meeting. Facebook used human moderators to go and take down that post. That was important. That has to come down. We can’t have them posting about school board meetings for heaven’s sake, but the things that your daughter experienced, this ring of pedophiles rings plural that Facebook just can’t find the time for. They just don’t have the resources for it that we just have to leave to, let the market have its effect, let AI do its job. We just don’t have the resources for it. They had plenty of resources to censor First Amendment speech, no resources to protect our children. Absolutely unconscionable..” – Senator Josh Hawley cross examining Arturo Bejar.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC):

“Okay. Alright, so your daughter felt harmed. Your testimony is millions of people are in the same situation. Your daughter, they know what they’re doing and they keep doing it anyway…I can’t think of a company in the world that can do this crap and not get sued except these people. ” – Senator Lindsey Graham

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC):

“Maybe number seven is the magic number of bills. The next bill, I hope and one thank you Senator Blumenthal and Hawley for doing this is to sunset Section 230. The other bills are going nowhere until they believe they can be sued in court. The day they know the courtroom is open to their business practices, they will flood us with all kind of good ideas. Until that day comes, nothing’s going to happen. And I said, as we passed, they’re going to go to the floor to die and be known. Senator Schumer, Senator McConnell, what’s the House doing? Not much. So the bottom line is a society that cannot take care of its children or refuses to has a bleak future. So thank you for doing this.” – Senator Lindsey Graham

Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI):

“if there’s no law that prevents them from having this kind of content or there are no court cases, they’re not held responsible for content, then the fact that people know that they have an incentive that they have exposed these kids. So, and this is why there’s so much attention being paid to Section 230 and the limited liability, in fact, no liability. They’re protected from content.” – Senator Marsha Blackburn