Senate panel grills execs for TikTok, Snapchat, YouTube about impact on kids

WASHINGTON — From dangerous viral challenges to online bullying, there are growing concerns about how social media apps are affecting kids.

Members of a Senate panel grilled executives from TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube Tuesday about their operations and called for the apps to do more to protect children and teens on their platforms.

There was harsh criticism from members of both parties who demanded answers about the availability of dangerous content.

“Videos about teens starving themselves,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). “It took us only one minute to find TikTok accounts openly promoting and selling steroids.”

“Kids as young as nine have died doing viral challenges on TikTok,” said Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.).

Senators also pointed to posts and videos leading to eating disorders and deadly drug overdoses after teens found drugs through the apps.

The app executives defended their policies for kids.

“Snapchat was built as an antidote to social media,” said Jennifer Stout, Vice President of Global Public Policy for Snap Inc. “We make no effort and have no plans to market to young children.”

TikTok pointed to built-in safety precautions like making accounts for kids under 16 automatically set to private.

“TikTok has made tremendous strides to promote the safety and well-being of teens but we also acknowledge and we are transparent about the room that we have to grow and improve,” said Michael Beckerman, Vice President and Head of Public Policy for TikTok.

YouTube said from April to June of this year, it removed nearly 1.8 million videos for violating child safety policies.

“Using a combination of machine learning and human reviewers across the globe, we commit significant time and resources to removing this harmful content as quickly as possible,” said Leslie Miller, Vice President of Government Affairs and Public Policy for YouTube.

Senators also expressed concerns about the data collected about kids on the apps.

“You are building a profile, a virtual view, of our children because of the data you are collecting,” said Blackburn.

A bipartisan bill was introduced this year to update children’s online privacy rules.

The Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), would prohibit internet companies from collecting personal information from anyone 13 to 15-years old without the user’s consent.

The bill also creates an online “eraser button” by requiring companies to allow users to eliminate personal information from a child or teen.