n Tuesday, October 26th, the trio of Snap, TikTok, and YouTube went to a Senate hearing on child safety with one purpose in mind: to persuade legislators that they are not Facebook. While the firms’ transparency encouraged lawmakers, their modesty has not stopped them from pushing new legislation.
While executives from YouTube’s parent company, Google, have testified before Congress before, this was the first time representatives from Snap and TikTok did so, and they came prepared to set themselves apart from the social media behemoth embroiled in yet another scandal. Senators were prompted to hold these hearings because of Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen’s leaks. The Facebook Papers loomed large over the event, confirming Snap and TikTok’s desire to stand out and promising Congress more transparency into their own research and algorithms.
“Snapchat was created as an antithesis to social media,” Jennifer Stout, Snap’s Vice President of Global Public Policy, said on Tuesday, attempting to defuse the Facebook comparison. “We even call ourselves a camera firm.”
“TikTok is a global entertainment platform where people produce and watch short-form films,” explained Michael Beckerman, Vice President and Head of Public Policy for the Americas at TikTok. Beckerman went on to say that by default, young users’ direct messaging and other social features are turned off.
Despite the testifying firms’ assurances, lawmakers were concerned that new platforms may be misused in the same way as Facebook and Instagram were.
Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT , that is, Democratic party, Connecticut, USA), the subcommittee’s leader, stated in his opening remarks on Tuesday that “being different from Facebook is not a defence.” That bar has sunk to the bottom of the abyss. Saying you’re different isn’t an excuse.”
Prior to the hearing on Tuesday, lawmakers brought in Facebook’s head of safety Antigone Davis and whistleblower Frances Haugen to examine how the company’s products, such as Instagram, lead young people to content that encourages self-harm and hazardous habits. Legislators have promised for years to pass new legislation to protect minors online, but a recent Wall Street Journal piece on a cache of internal Facebook papers hacked by Haugen has given them new hope.
According to lawmakers, Instagram makes “body image concerns worse for one out of every three teen girls,” according to internal Facebook study.
Davis’ hesitation to answer questions and Facebook’s refusal to provide its whole body of research on the effects of its services on adolescent users were highlighted by senators at a September hearing.
“I’m not sure how you can dispute, Ms. Davis, that Instagram isn’t profiting off underage users?” At the time, Blumenthal inquired. “The findings of this study are shocking. It’s compelling evidence that Facebook is aware of its site’s negative effects on youngsters and has kept those facts and findings hidden.”
While Facebook may have refused to publish the research, reporters from a variety of news outlets were given access to additional documents leaked by Haugen and published a flurry of articles on Monday examining Facebook’s own research and documents on teen issues and other topics like content moderation, dubbed the “Facebook Papers.”
Snap, TikTok, and YouTube clearly did not want to be the subject of their own “Papers” controversies. During Tuesday’s session, all three businesses pledged to give Congress access to their research, data, and independent studies. Senator John Thune (R-SD ,that is. Republican Party, South Dakota, USA), for example, suggested that the committee should transmit the records to outside specialists for assessment.
Blumenthal told reporters on Tuesday that his subcommittee would “hold them” to their word, and that lawmakers will “pursue legislation,” including amendments to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and a possible markup on the KIDS Act. The latter law would impose new restrictions on the products and materials that tech companies can offer to youngsters under the age of 16.
Even as Snap, TikTok, and YouTube strive to distance themselves from Facebook’s tumultuous regulatory environment, CEO Mark Zuckerberg attempted to bring them closer together on the company’s most recent earnings call on Monday. Zuckerberg noted that the business has made improvements to its services to better assist older customers, who are less likely to utilise platforms like Snap and TikTok.
“So many of our services have been dialed in to be the best for the vast majority of people who use them, rather than exclusively for young adults,” Zuckerberg remarked. “One of the most effective competitors we’ve ever faced,” he later said about TikTok. He also revealed that Instagram’s app design would be updated, with the Reels feature becoming “a more fundamental element of the experience.” Reels is Facebook’s response to TikTok’s rising popularity among teenagers, allowing users to publish films in a similar way.
The necessity to rein in the operations of social media companies could not have arrived at a better moment. As more and more countries around the world embrace a ‘democratised’ media – the internet, and the push for freedom of information grows ‘louder’ by the day around the world, existing social media firms and their numerous investors are catching on to that so-called ‘freedom of information’ guise and raking in billions of dollars without putting the users’ well-being first.
What the US senators are doing (inviting the social media industry’s behemoth to a hearing) is a positive step in the right direction. At the very least, this demonstrates that social media business may be regulated in the same way that traditional business is.
This is a huge step forward in terms of social media sensitization and sanity, especially at a time when the globe is reeling from moral degeneration. And, I would encourage other countries to follow suit by requiring social media companies to follow the standards in their various countries, allowing people to consume what suits them best in terms of conventions and lifestyle.
Lastly, the Nigerian government did ban Twitter because ‘unfavourable’ news about them was published on Twitter. And, they reached out to the social media firm to pull down what they tagged ‘a hate speech’ against the Federal Government. The social media firm responded in the affirmative and did as requested. A day or two after, the Federal Government, precisely, the Presidency, posted a rather ‘grave’ message on the same platform which was deemed ‘genocidal’ in context. The message was also pulled down by the social media firm and the user, the Presidency’s Twitter handle was blocked temporarily. In a counter move, the Federal Government of Nigeria banned Twitter in the land. That is simply being deceptive, double standard practic,e and an attempt to mislead the public. And that, my ardent reader(s), is not what the US lawmakers were all about by summoning these firms. Slamming a ban on social media operation is stifling freedom of information. Regulation is key and by regulation it implies how the activities of social media companies can be kept in check so that their impact on the lives of the public (teens and underage especially) is not negatively viewed. With a constant check and balance, social media will be a place where one can be rest assured that positivity is well-groomed and consumed appropriately.