The top Republican on the House Energy & Commerce Committee tore into three Big Tech CEOs testifying before the committee Thursday, accusing their companies of exploiting and profiting from children.
Committee ranking member Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), in her passionate opening statement, accused Big Tech platforms of failing to keep their promise to help people connect and build relationships.
“You have broken my trust, yes, because you failed to promote the battle of ideas and free speech,” she told the CEOs of Google, Facebook, and Twitter. “Yes, because you censor political viewpoints you disagree with. Those polarizing actions matter for democracy.
“But do you know what convinced me Big Tech is a destructive force?” McMorris Rodgers continued. “It’s how you’ve abused your power to manipulate and harm our children. Your platforms are my biggest fear as a parent.”
A working mother of three children, McMorris Rodgers is outspoken on issues of child exploitation on the internet, the dangers posed to teen mental health from overexposure to social media, and the responsibility Big Tech to combat child grooming and trafficking.
In January, McMorris Rodgers released what she calls the “Big Tech Accountability Platform,” a Republican Party statement of principles and legislative priorities for regulating tech companies.
“I’m a mom of three school-aged kids. My husband and I are fighting the Big Tech battles in our household every day,” she said. “The battle for their development. A battle for their mental health. And ultimately, a battle for their safety. I’ve monitored their algorithms, I’ve monitored where your algorithms lead them. It’s frightening.”
The congresswoman raised concerns about social media’s demonstrated harmful effect on children, mentioning studies that show increased rates of depression, self-harm, suicides, and suicide attempts for youth that are overexposed to social media platforms. She also related stories shared with her by constituents of kids harming themselves, or falling prey to child predators interacting with them over the internet.
“Our kids — the users — are the product. You — Big Tech — are not advocates for children,” she said. “You exploit and profit off of them. Big Tech needs to be exposed and completely transparent for what you are doing to our children so parents like me can make informed decisions. We also expect Big Tech to do more to protect children because you haven’t done enough. Big Tech has failed to be good stewards of your platforms.”
Visibly angry, the lawmaker concluded with a personal ultimatum to Big Tech companies:
I have two daughters and a son with a disability. Let me be clear, I do not want you defining what is true for them. I do not want their future manipulated by your algorithms. I do not want their self-worth defined by the engagement tools you built to attract their attention. I do not want them to be in danger from what you’ve created. I do not want their emotions and vulnerabilities taken advantage of so you can make more money and have more power.
Over 20 years ago, before we knew what Big Tech would become, Congress gave you liability protections. I want to know, why do you think you still deserve those protections today?
What will it take for your business model to stop harming children?