By Allen Henry
MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar believes a "boiling point" has been reached after grilling multiple tech CEOs during a hearing on Wednesday.
Klobuchar is a member of the Senate Judicary Committee which hosted the hearing titled "Big Tech and the Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis" and featured the CEOs of Meta, TikTok, Snapchat, X and Discord.
"We have to take action here. There are kids that are dying. There are kids that think they're getting a Percocet, and it's laced with fentanyl," Klobuchar said in an interview with WCCO's Allen Henry after the hearing. "There are others that get involved in sending pictures to someone they think is a girlfriend or a boyfriend...and then they get bribed with those pictures. We've had over 20 commit suicide in the US, just in the last year."
Bridgette Norring of Hastings was invited by Klobuchar to be part of Wednesday's hearing.
Norring's 19-year old son Devin died in April 2020. She told WCCO last summer he had a cracked molar and migraines, but COVID lockdowns canceled his dental appointments. Devin's friend said he could help him find a painkiller. It only took one pill.
"And that Percocet was purchased via Snapchat, turned out to be 100% fentanyl," Norring said. "We thought we had all the talks with Devin, all my children about the drugs out there, the dangers on social media. This is a talk we missed, unfortunately."
Norring shared the story with lawmakers — and those CEOs — on Wednesday.
"For so long, big tech has been able to do whatever they want to do. And there's been no consequences. So they need to be held to a higher standard higher accountability so parents have recourse when their children are harmed," Norring said.
"More than 30% of people that get fentanyl, it's off of social media. These drug dealers that are using social media...They don't really care if anyone dies, they're anonymous behind an app, behind a website," Sen. Klobuchar said. "We have to make it easier for law enforcement to go after the perpetrators and the cartels in Mexico and in China that are putting this stuff up on these platforms, they need that information from the platforms to do that."
There were several tense moments during Wednesday's hearing. Both Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel apologized to parents at the urging of lawmakers.
"I'm sorry for everything you have all been through," Zuckerberg said. "No one should go through the things that your families have suffered and this is why we invest so much and we are going to continue doing industry-wide efforts to make sure no one has to go through the things your families have had to suffer."
"I'm so sorry that we have not been able to prevent these tragedies. We work very hard to block all search terms related to drugs on our platform," Spiegel said. "We proactively look for and detect drug-related content. We remove it from our platform, preserve the evidence, and then we refer it to law enforcement for action. We've worked together with nonprofits and with families on education campaigns, because the scale the fentanyl epidemic is extraordinary. Over 100,000 people lost their lives last year and we believe people need to know that one pill can kill. That campaign was viewed more than 260 million times on Snapchat."
Both Norring and Klobuchar found the apologies to be lacking.
"It's nice to hear the apology, though I would have preferred ... A little bit more heart behind it just other than some canned response that we've heard over and over again, over these last four years since I've lost my son. But it's going to take more than an apology. There's no apology in the world to make up for what's been done," Norring said.
"You always want someone to own things. And apologies are important," Klobuchar added. "But we got to do so much more. They have hired so many lobbyists to stop these bills. And Bridget is just here, right? She doesn't have five lobbyists for every member of Congress. We have to stand up and say, enough is enough."
With the rise of AI, Klobuchar says the need to act is even more urgent.
Just last week, fake explicit images of superstar Taylor Swift spread like wildfire on social media. She hopes another example isn't created this November.
"When the Boeing door fell off that plane, they grounded 700 planes right there. (Bridgette's) son dies or we have kids committing suicide and everyone says, well, these tech companies are too powerful so we're not going to do anything," the senator said. ?"I see the future and with AI coming, our own democracy, these fake voice videos that we're seeing and fake pictures, we have got to get a hold on it."
Nearly four years after her son's death, Norring is still optimistic lawmakers will get something done.
"I feel a little bit more hopeful today that these bills will get passed," she said. "Just seeing everybody come together, Republicans and Democrats, that is what truly needs to happen in order for these bills to get passed. Seeing that today, and seeing that momentum, it really brought some much needed hope and in my heart that this will finally be done."