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For the first time ever, on January 31, five Big Tech CEOs from Meta, X, Snap, TikTok and Discord are being called to testify on their failures to protect children online. Pressure has been mounting especially over the last year as the Senate Judiciary Committee has introduced several bipartisan bills to help stop the exploitation of kids online.
Child sexual abuse material, or CSAM, is any content that depicts sexually explicit activities involving a child. This devastating crime has severe and lifelong consequences for survivors, and the online sharing of this material traumatizes victims long after the abuse has ended. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an exponential increase in online sexual exploitation and abuse of children (known as OSEAC). To give a scale of this epidemic, in 2019, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) received 16.9 million reports of CSAM to their CyberTipline. In 2022, that number nearly doubled, to over 32 million reports, marking the highest number of reports ever received in one year.
In the U.S., there has been a steadily growing movement to combat OSEAC. Child advocates, survivors, concerned parents and organizations dedicated to protecting children have been taking action. Efforts such as the creation of the End OSEAC Coalition in 2022 and recent campaigns like ChildFund's #TakeItDown have put further pressure on Congress to act.
Yet Big Tech plays the most crucial role in the global response to this horrific crime. While U.S. law requires them to report CSAM once they’ve been made aware of it, these companies are not required to proactively search for it. There’s also no punishment for platforms that don’t remove it quickly, and there are no standards for transparency and accountability. Our goal is that these companies detect, report and remove child sexual abuse imagery from their platforms.
During the hearing, for which three of the five CEOs refused repeated requests to attend and were ultimately subpoenaed, these companies will be directed to explain why they have failed to keep their platforms safe for children. Voluntary measures they have taken just aren’t doing enough, and hiding behind privacy considerations completely neglects the real threat of exploitation and abuse so many children face online.
ChildFund believes that regulation will push tech companies to build new and leading-edge solutions to better protect children around the world. Specifically, we support the passage of three bipartisan bills: the EARN-IT Act, the REPORT-Act and the STOP CSAM Act. Together this legislative package will help to increase accountability and transparency for online platforms, make it easier to prosecute predators and hold accountable any platforms that allow their crimes to proliferate.
But legislation simply isn’t enough. Big Tech also needs to consider child protection in a more comprehensive and integrated way. We want these global and multimillion-dollar corporations to create dedicated internal teams to combat this issue, fund technological solutions to identify those who have been harmed, create annual transparency reports and share them with the public, and, most importantly, invest in survivor solutions and resources.
Big Tech can help to create a safer future for children online, but they must be willing to make the proper changes and investments now.
If you’d like to support our efforts, visit ChildFund.org/takeitdown to tweet directly at your legislators and follow our live coverage on social media on January 31. You can also watch the livestream of the hearing on the Senate Judiciary Committee's website.