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Executives from Snapchat, TikTok and YouTube distanced themselves from Facebook during a congressional hearing Tuesday on teen online safety.

Members of a Senate Commerce Committee subcommittee roasted tech company representatives at a hearing titled “Protecting Kids Online: Snapchat, TikTok and YouTube.”

Facebook was not present at the hearing, having already been asked about Instagram’s harmful effects on children by the commission last month. But her presence was significant after weeks of media coverage of documents leaked to the Wall Street Journal and other outlets, including NBC News, by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen.

Many of the questions to Jennifer Stout, head of public policy at Snap, Michael Beckerman, head of public policy at TikTok, and Leslie Miller, head of government affairs and public policy at YouTube, centered on the detrimental effects of Instagram on the adolescent mental health and body image, detailed in internal research. disclosed by Haugen, as well as the role of algorithms in pushing teens towards harmful content.

“I understand from your testimony that your defense is, ‘We are not Facebook. We are different and we are different from each other. Being different from Facebook is no defense, ”said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., And chair of the Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Data Security subcommittee that convened the audience with Senator Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., during her opening remarks.

“For too long, we have allowed platforms to promote and glorify dangerous content to teens and young users,” added Blackburn. “How long are we going to let this go on?” What will it take for platforms to crack down on viral challenges, illicit drugs, eating disorder content and child pornography? “

Jennifer Stout, Snapchat’s vice president of global public policy, testified on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.Jim Watson / AFP – Getty Images

Stout said Snapchat was created as a “social media antidote” and pointed out how the app differs from other social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. She said Snapchat focused on privacy, with messages and images removed by default, and connecting people who know each other in real life, rather than showing them a stream of videos and images of strangers.

“You weren’t judged on your perfect posts,” she added.

Miller said the kids and teens versions of YouTube, YouTube Kids, and YouTube-supervised experiences don’t support features like comments or live chat, and don’t allow personalized advertising. She said the platform has policies against harmful content such as videos promoting eating disorders and removes them through a combination of automated tools and human review.

“We don’t prioritize profits over security,” she said. “We are investing heavily to make sure our platforms are safe for our users. And we don’t wait to act. We are putting in place systems, practices and protocols. “

The FTC fined Google, YouTube’s parent company, $ 170 million in 2019 for violating children’s privacy laws. He was accused of collecting data on children under 13 on the main YouTube platform without parental permission.

Beckerman said TikTok is an entertainment platform that doesn’t focus on direct messaging between users. “This is uplifting and entertaining content,” he said. “People love it.”

“We have put in place a tough policy and tough product choices that prioritize the well-being of adolescents,” he said, highlighting the ban on direct messages for those under 16 and strengthening family checks.

When questioning Senator Cynthia Lummis, R-Wy., About TikTok’s data collection practices, including its keystroke data collection, which involves collecting data relating to users’ typing behavior, she asked what other tech platforms collect more data than TikTok.

“Facebook and Instagram,” he said.

Senator Edward Markey, D-Mass., Urged company officials to reveal whether they would support the Child and Youth Online Privacy Protection Act, a bill designed to improve protection online privacy of young people, including banning targeted advertising aimed at 13- to 15-year-olds, building on existing legislation banning targeting of children under 13.

He became frustrated when company representatives failed to offer definitive answers, including Snap’s Stout saying the company agreed teens deserve better privacy protections and “we’d love to talk to you. a bit more”.

“That’s what drives us crazy,” Markey said. “We want to talk, we want to talk. This bill has been around for years. Do you support it or not?

David Monahan, campaign manager for child safety group Fairplay (formerly the Ad-Free Childhood Campaign, responded to the audience with mixed emotions.

“We are encouraged to see Congress shine a light on the harms children face online, including tragic cases of dangerous viral challenges, bullying and manipulative influence marketing,” he wrote. . “It is disappointing that so often witnesses have asked senators to ‘trust us’.”

Facebook’s global security chief Antigone Davis was questioned in a similar fashion at the end of September. The hearing was sparked by concerns over Facebook’s plans to launch a version of Instagram for children under 13, as well as reports from the Wall Street Journal exploring how Instagram could be harmful to teens .

Days before the hearing, Instagram director Adam Mosseri said the company had put development on a version of the children’s photo-sharing app on hold.

“I still believe it’s a good thing to create a version of Instagram that is designed to be safe for tweens. But we want to take the time to talk to parents, researchers and safety experts and come to a greater consensus on how to move forward, ”he told the show’s Craig Melvin. “TODAY”. “If someone leaves Instagram feeling bad about themselves, this is an important issue that we need to take seriously and find a way to fix it.”

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