Under scrutiny, social media platforms make vague pledges to Congress

Officials from SnapChat, TikTok and YouTube said they would work with lawmakers on proposals to help protect children from harmful content

Michael Beckerman, vice president and head of public policy at TikTok, testified Tuesday at a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing.  (Getty Images)
Michael Beckerman, vice president and head of public policy at TikTok, testified Tuesday at a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing. (Getty Images)
Posted October 26, 2021 at 3:56pm

Amid intensifying pressure to come clean about how their products affect the mental and physical health of young users, officials from Snapchat, TikTok and YouTube promised on Tuesday to work with Congress to craft new guardrails for the social media industry.

In most cases, officials from the three companies declined to endorse specific legislative proposals, although Michael Beckerman, TikTok’s head of public policy, said the company backs a bipartisan bill by Sens. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., and Ben Sasse, R-Neb., that would provide federal funding for researching the effects of social media on kids.

But officials from all three companies said they would work with lawmakers on proposals to help protect children from harmful content, preserve their privacy and overhaul a 1996 law known as Section 230 that protects platforms from lawsuits related to third-party content.

They also said they would provide internal research on the ways teenage users interact with their platforms, and expressed openness to granting external access to their algorithms.

The hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee’s consumer protection subpanel came as lawmakers double down on reining in social media companies following a slew of bombshell reports from across the media landscape on internal research by Facebook, the social media giant that lawmakers consider most ripe for regulation.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who chairs the subcommittee, said the smaller platforms at Tuesday’s hearing represent the same threat to children as Facebook because they operate similar business models.

“More eyeballs means more dollars,” Blumenthal said. “Everything that you do is to add users, especially kids, and keep them on your apps for longer.”

Blumenthal warned the companies that distancing themselves from Facebook would be insufficient to placate lawmakers who believe the entire industry needs reigning in.

“I understand that your defense is ‘We’re not Facebook, we’re different,’” he said. “Being different from Facebook is not a defense. That bar is in the gutter.”