Senate to grill executives from TikTok, Snapchat, YouTube on harm to teens, children

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., speaks during a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Data Security hearing on children’s online safety and mental health on September 30. Pool Photo by Patrick Semansky/UPI | License Photo

Oct. 25 (UPI) — Top executives from Snapchat, TikTok and YouTube will testify in Congress this week on how their platforms, which have become tremendously popular among young people, can cause harm to children online.

The Senate commerce committee’s panel on consumer protection, product safety and data security will convene a hearing on Tuesday titled, “Protecting Kids Online.” It was the same committee that put Facebook under the spotlight earlier this month by questioning whistleblower Frances Haugen.

Facebook and other popular social platforms have been under scrutiny recently over their impact on children, due to multiple studies that have concluded that they actively cause harm.

A month ago, Facebook paused the rollout of its planned Instagram Kids — a child version of its popular photo-sharing app — due to such studies and a desire to “work with parents, experts, policymakers and regulators to listen to their concerns.”

On Oct. 5, Haugen, a former data scientist at Facebook, appeared before the committee and told the panel that the company has long known about the platform’s negative influence on children.

Haugen was scheduled to testify in British Parliament on Monday to help lawmakers scrutinize proposed legislation to rein in the power of social media companies and crack down on those that fail to protect younger users.

Similar platforms like TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube are also popular with kids and teens.

“While social media can provide entertainment and educational opportunities, these apps have also 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,” the Senate committee said of this week’s hearing, in a statement.

Witnesses at Tuesday’s hearing include Jennifer Stout, Snap vice president of global public policy; Michael Beckman, TikTok vice president and head of public policy for the Americas; and Leslie Miller, YouTube vice president of government affairs and public policy.

Frances Haugen, a former data scientist at Facebook, testified before the Senate committee on October 5 that the company has long known about the platform’s negative influence on children. Pool Photo by Drew Angerer/UPI

“This hearing will examine how tech companies treat young audiences, including how algorithms and product design choices can amplify harms, addiction and intrusions into privacy. The hearing will also explore needed improvements to our laws to protect children and teenagers online.”

For an idea of TikTok’s rising popularity, data last month from analytics company App Annie showed that the short-form video platform surpassed YouTube in the average time users with Android smartphones spent watching videos. The TikTok average was more than 24 hours per month, compared to less than 23 hours for Google-owned YouTube.

The platforms’ ages show the impact of younger users. TikTok was started in 2016 while YouTube, which recently launched YouTube Shorts to better compete with TikTok, has been around since 2005. Snapchat, which allows users to send time-limited images and videos, has also launched features that allow users to create short-form content.

Facebook-owned Instagram also includes features that allow users to create the same kinds of content commonly found on TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube.

Last month, Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., of the Senate commerce committee said the panel on consumer protection and product safety would investigate Haugen’s claims that Facebook knew about its platforms’ negative impact on young users.

“Recent revelations about harm to kids online show that Big Tech is facing its Big Tobacco moment — a moment of reckoning,” Blumenthal said in an Oct. 19 statement.

“TikTok is an especially egregious offender, both because they make the personal information of all TikTok users available to the communist Chinese government,” Blackburn added.

“And because the app pushes sexually explicit and drug-related content onto children.”

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