On 31 January, the US Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing with the CEOs from TikTok, X, Meta, Snap, and Discord on online child safety. Specifically, the hearing focused on the proliferation of child sex abuse material online (CSAM) – and online platform’s efforts to protect users. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, reports of CSAM on online platforms grew from 32 million in 2022 to 36 million in 2023.
The hearing was contentious, as both Democratic and Republican Senators pressed the respective CEOs on their failure to curb the issue. Senators suggested that the companies are partly to blame for the deaths of children who were victimised online – likening tech companies to the tobacco industry. Senators pushed the respective executives to support measures that would expose platforms to greater liability for the spread of CSAM. One such proposal, S. 1199, the Strengthening Transparency and Obligations to Protect Children Suffering from Abuse and Mistreatment Act (STOP CSAM Act), has stalled in Congress. Despite passing the Senate Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support in May 2023, the Senate has not yet voted on the bill, which has faced opposition from tech companies and digital rights organisations.
Momentum for stricter online safety regulations is not limited to the US Congress. The 2023 UK Online Safety Act represented a significant step forward in national regulation for online platforms. Within the US, states have acted in the absence of federal laws. As of 2023, 13 states have passed online child safety laws – ranging from requiring online platforms to conduct children’s safety assessments to a recent legislative proposal in Florida that would bar children aged 16 and younger from social media platforms.
Existing bipartisan support for federal legislation, combined with the increased attention that will be paid to online platforms in advance of the 2024 elections in the US, means it is likely that tech companies will continue to face mounting pressure to address children’s safety online.
Access Partnership will continue to closely track any updates to US legislation and any future congressional hearings. If you would like any additional information on the latest legislative developments, please reach out to Lucan Sanchez at [email protected].