The timing of Meta’s announcement of new teen safety measures earlier this week likely wasn’t coincidental: Mark Zuckerberg and other social media CEOs are set to testify to Congress on the topic.
Congress will again grill the chief executives of several big tech companies this week, including Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, about potential harms from their products on teens. Until now, the social platforms have largely had the same response: We’ll help teens and families make smart decisions themselves.
But now, with growing claims that social media can hurt young users, including worries that it risks driving them to depression or even suicide, online safety advocates say that response falls far short. And with a presidential election looming — and state lawmakers stealing the spotlight from their federal counterparts — Congress is set to press tech companies to go beyond the tools they’ve rolled out in the past.
The chief executives of TikTok, Snap, Discord and X are set to testify alongside Zuckerberg at Wednesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
We can expect all five execs to describe the protective measures they have in place, but many feel that existing tools don’t go far enough. In particular, there are concerns about the content being pushed to teens through algorithms and ads.
“What the committee needs to do is to push these executives to commit to major changes, especially to disconnect their advertising and marketing systems from services that are known to attract and target youth,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of online consumer protection nonprofit the Center for Digital Democracy.
Others feel that social media companies only act when faced with lawsuits and bad publicity.
“It shouldn’t have taken a decade of predators grooming children on Instagram, it shouldn’t have taken massively embarrassing … lawsuits, it shouldn’t have taken Mark Zuckerberg being hauled before Congress next week,” for Meta and other platforms to make such changes, said Josh Golin, executive director of nonprofit children’s safety group Fairplay.
There is also growing concern about the potential of generative AI tools to create a whole new generation of false information, whether by deliberate action or the well-known tendency of ChatGPT style systems to “hallucinate” and present fake facts with as much confidence as real ones.
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