By Howard Bloom
The Senate Judiciary Committee, under Democrat Dick Durbin and Republican Lindsey Graham, held a hearing Wednesday, January 31, that the Committee advertised as “the first time a group of Big Tech CEOs will testify on online child sexual exploitation.”
The CEOs included Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg, TikTok’s Shou Chew, X’s Linda Yaccarino, Snap’s Evan Spiegel, and Discord’s Jason Citron.
The hearing was a setup, a hate-the-social-media session. In the front row of the audience were 20 parents of children who had been killed or seriously damaged by criminals using social media. All of the parents wore black. At the beginning of the hearing, the parents stood up and lifted placards above their heads with pictures of their dead children.
Then an emotional video was shown blaming social media for these kids’ demise. By the time the six CEOs filed into the room, they had been made to look like murderers. The audience hissed.
Two CEOs were bullied by Senators into turning around, looking at this hostile audience, and apologizing. The press particularly enjoyed seeing Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg shamed into making an apology.
According to CNN, “Sen. Josh Hawley called on Zuckerberg, as a billionaire, to ‘compensate’ the families.” Louisiana Republican Sen. John Kennedy told the six CEOs ““You’re in the foothills of creepy.” Minnesota Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar said, “I’m so tired of this…It’s been 28 years … since the start of the internet. We haven’t passed any of these bills.”
She was talking about six bills the committee was hoping to get across the finish line, bills that have bi-partisan support and are written to protect children online.
One of those bills, The Protecting Kids on Social Media Act, would set a minimum age of 13 to use social media and would require parental consent for 13 through 17 year-olds. I am convinced that a limitation of social media use for kids under seventeen would damage kids and weaken the nation.
But at the heart of the hearing were the stories of kids damaged or killed by criminals using social media.
· Riley Rodee was fifteen years old when he killed himself. What his mother called a “sextortionist” had enticed him into sending nude photos of himself, then had threatened to make the photos public if he didn’t pay $3,500. Six hours later he committed suicide. His mother did not blame the sextortionist. Instead she said that Meta had failed to protect her son from online abuse.
· Carson Bride was sixteen when he hanged himself after being attacked mercilessly on Snapchat by an anonymous gang of bullies who piled so much hate on him that he couldn’t take it anymore. His parents did not blame the bullies. Instead his mother testified that Snap did not respond to her pleas for help.
· Matthew Minor was twelve years old when he took up the viral TikTok “choking challenge” and choked himself to death. His parents did not blame the creators of the choking challenge. Instead they said TikTok did not remove the dangerous videos despite their warnings.
· Mason Bogard was 15 when he took up the same TikTok “choking challenge.” And he, too, succeeded in killing himself. His mother did not blame the creators of the choking challenge. Instead she said TikTok ignored her requests to take down the videos that influenced her son.
· Finally, Mariam Radwan’s mother testified that, “The algorithms that drive Instagram and TikTok nearly killed my daughter Mariam. Curious about healthy eating, social media sucked her into a black hole of dangerous content like how to eat less than 500” calories “a day or challenges to prove extreme thinness.” Explained Mariam’s mother, “She spent all four years of high school in and out of hospitals, went into cardiac arrest, and was confined to a wheelchair because of the eating disorder social media triggered. TikTok and Instagram made a lot of money off her pain.”
These are gut-wrenching stories. And a lot more needs to be done to police criminal acts against both children and adults. But here’s a question. If you are mugged on Times Square, do you sue the owner of the sidewalk where it happened, or do you go after the mugger? Hire a lawyer, and he will say go after whoever has the deepest pockets.
The bottom line? Don’t attack social media. Attack the criminals.
Howard Bloom of the Howard Bloom Institute has been called the Einstein, Newton, and Freud of the 21st century by Britain’s Channel 4 TV. One of his seven books–Global Brain—was the subject of a symposium thrown by the Office of the Secretary of Defense including representatives from the State Department, the Energy Department, DARPA, IBM, and MIT. His work has been published in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Wired, Psychology Today, and the Scientific American. He does news commentary at 1:06 am Eastern Time every Wednesday night on 545 radio stations on Coast to Coast AM. For more, see Howard Bloom Institute | Science & Philosophy Community