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Hey Trish, what’s the deal with tomorrow’s Big Tech hearing?

Hi there, and welcome back to another week of Ask Trish! I hope you’re all well and have had a wonderful January. (Can you believe the month is nearly over?! 2024 is already flying by…)

Thank you so much to this week’s question-er for the fantastic current events question! Indeed – for those folks who are not aware – tomorrow will be a big one for the internet, and in particular, social media, world – 5 Big Tech CEOs will be testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee. If you’re thinking, Cool, that sounds like a big deal…but I don’t really know what that means, don’t fear! In this week’s post, I’m going to briefly break down 1) what the aims of the hearing are and 2) what we can likely expect. I’ll leave it to you to think it all through (and conduct some additional research, if you like!). Sound good?

(And once again, you’ll notice that I’m continuing a new format for these posts – shorter and a bit punchier. Let me know if you like the new approach in this week’s video’s comments section!)

So, first and foremost – what the heck is happening tomorrow? Tomorrow, Wednesday, January 31st, the Senate Judiciary Committee (a standing Senatorial committee of 21 US Senators that considers everything from human rights law to internet law!) is convening a hearing with 5 Big Tech CEOs: the CEOs of Meta, X, TikTok, Snapchat, and Discord. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew voluntarily agreed to testify, while X, SnapChat, and Discord’s CEOs were formally subpoenaed to be there (put simply, the Committee demanded that they come. They’re not particularly happy that they had to do this). The aim of the hearing is primarily to explore online child sexual exploitation, an issue that remains incredibly prevalent on the internet. Platforms may try to contain child sexual abuse material (CSAM), but often are not entirely successful in doing so, something that seriously worries the Senators. The hearing will also more generally focus on youth online safety. Issues like cyberbullying, hateful, harassing content, monetization of youth attention, and AI products that have been found to be faulty from a safety perspective will almost certainly be on the agenda. Senators will both be trying to 1) call attention to specific issues they’ve seen, e.g., the fact that Snapchat’s My AI Chatbot was shown to offer 13-year-old users advice on how to hide bruises from Child Protective Services (I know…yikes!) and 2) learn about platforms’ processes and systems for addressing and containing these issues.

So what can we expect? Well, we can definitely expect Senators to grill the CEOs. It’s been a year of revelations about these platforms; for instance, in 2023, Meta whistleblower Arturo Béjar testified that, per Instagram’s own internal research, Instagram users were 100x more likely to have seen or experienced bullying content in a week than Meta publicly claims they do in a year. The Senators are definitely going to dig in on these issues. We’ll also likely learn quite a bit about the future of these platforms, e.g., how new technologies like AI are shaping both their efforts to tackle cyber-harms and the range of cyberharms youth users may face. AI, in particular, remains a very hot topic, and I’d be surprised if it doesn’t get a lot of attention. We’re also likely to see platforms announce major safety initiatives (if they haven’t already) ahead of or immediately after the hearings. For instance, in a surprise move (breaking ranks with other social media platforms!), Snapchat recently announced support for the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), a proposed digital safety law. In other words, there’s going to be a lot of internet-safety related activity happening – and it’ll be fascinating to see what develops! 

I hope that that was a helpful primer/intro to what’s ahead in the Senate. If you’re interested in learning more, I’d encourage you to follow the hearing tomorrow – it’s sure to be very interesting.

And you know what else is interesting? The many internet and tech-related questions, worries and thoughts I know you all are wondering about! Please share whatever is on your mind with me here. I’d really love to hear from you – and possibly make a video/post about your question! Thanks in advance for sharing.

Have a great week,

Trish

https://www.tiktok.com/@asktrish/video/7328881863316081951?is_from_webapp=1&sender_device=pc&web_id=7272833606245107246

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