WASHINGTON – At today’s Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security hearing titled “Protecting Kids Online: Snapchat, TikTok, and YouTube,” U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) demanded answers from Snapchat on the tragic deaths of Devin Norring and Ryan McPherson, two young Minnesotans who died after taking drugs bought on Snapchat through messages.
“This is a story, there’s two kids, Devin Norring, Ryan McPherson. Devin’s story, he was suffering from dental pain at the beginning of the pandemic. He couldn’t go in to see a doctor, he’d been given a Percocet before, and a classmate said he had a Percocet. Well, what this young man did not know is that this percocet was laced with fentanyl, and he died just like that…” said Klobuchar.
She continued by pushing for more information on automated tools Snapchat uses to proactively search for illegal drug-related content and other efforts to eliminate drug dealers from the platform.
Klobuchar has been a longtime advocate for updating federal policies to rein in the power of big tech, including addressing how social media algorithms harm kids.
Sen. Klobuchar: Thank you to both of you. Reports indicate that nearly half of kids 9 to 12 and a third of kids aged 7 to 9 use social media on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snap, TikTok, YouTube. I don’t think parents are going to stand by while our kids and our democracy become collateral damage to a profit game. And I heard last night, Mark Zuckerberg’s words to his earnings, his earnings report, and while he may be out there acting as a victim at his $29 billion quarter earnings report meeting, the true victims, the true victims: the mom in Duluth who can’t get her kid off Facebook to do her homework, the dad mourning losing a child to a Snap speed filter that measured him, the kid, at going 123 miles per hour trying to beat the filter, or a child exposed to content glorifying eating disorders on TikTok. So I have had a case right in my state, two cases actually, of young people who got drugs through Snap, and I wanted to first start out with that, with you, Ms. Stout.
This is a story, there’s two kids, Devin Norring, Ryan McPherson. Devin’s story, he was suffering from dental pain at the beginning of the pandemic. He couldn’t go in to see a doctor, he’d been given a percocet before, and a classmate said he had a percocet. Well, what this young man did not know is that this percocet was laced with fentanyl, and he died just like that. As his mom said in a letter to me, “all of the hopes and dreams we as parents had for Devin were erased in the blink of an eye.” A group of parents, including Devin’s mother Bridgette, demanded answers and accountability from Snap on this issue in a letter to you in September.
Ms. Stout, I want to know what the answers are. Will you commit to providing more information about the automated tools Snap uses to proactively search for illegal drug-related content as the parents ask?
Ms. Stout: Senator, I very much appreciate you raising this issue, because it has been a devastating crisis that’s been afflicting our young people. I want to make clear we are absolutely determined to remove all drug dealers from Snapchat, and we've been very public about our efforts in this space. First of all, we have stepped up our operational efforts, and my heart goes out to the family of Devin Norring. I've met with Bridgette Norring, I met with her back in April. I heard from her and other families to understand what is happening to them, their experience, and also what’s happening on Snapchat. We have stepped up, and we have deployed proactive detection measures to get ahead of what the drug dealers are doing. They are constantly evading our tactics, not just on Snapchat, but on every platform.
We've also stepped up our work with law enforcement. Just last week, we had a law enforcement summit, where we gathered over 2,000 members of law enforcement across the country so that we can understand what they are dealing with and find out best practices on how we can get them the information they need to help their investigations.
And finally, Senator, this is important, but we have deployed an education and awareness campaign, because what is happening on our platforms, all across social media and technology platforms, is that young people who are suffering from mental health and stress, induced by the pandemic and other issues, they are reaching for substances, often times pills and opioids, but these substances are laced with fentanyl, enough fentanyl to kill them.
Sen. Klobuchar: But here’s my problem, is that if a kid had just walked into, say, a pharmacy, you wouldn’t be able to buy that or get that, but in this case, they can get on your platform and just find a way to buy it. And that is the problem. And I guess I want to know, are you going to get your drugs, I appreciate everything you said, I appreciate you meeting with the mom, are you going to get drugs off Snapchat when you have all these kids, half the kids in America, looking at these platforms?
Ms. Stout: I assure you, this is such a top priority for our entire company, and, Senator, it's not just happening on our platform, it's happening on others. So, therefore, we need to work collectively with other platforms, the other companies that are here today, to work together.
Sen. Klobuchar: Thank you, that’s good. Thank you. I think there’s other ways to do this too, as creating liability when this happens, so maybe that’ll make you work even faster so we don’t lose another kid.
Mr. Beckerman, a recent investigation by the Wall Street Journal found that TikTok’s algorithm can push young users into content glorifying eating disorders, drugs, violence. Have you stopped that?
Mr. Beckerman: Yes, Senator, I don't agree with the way the Wall Street Journal went about that. With that said, we have made a number of improvements to the way people can have control over the algorithm and have age-appropriate content on TikTok.
Sen. Klobuchar: Okay, and what are those changes? Like are they still getting, are they completely protected now from this content?
Mr. Beckerman: Senator, the content that relates to drugs, as you’re pointing out, it violates our community guidelines. As it relates to minor safety, over 97 percent of violated content is removed proactively. Of course we want to get to 100 percent, and it's something that we’re constantly working on.
Sen. Klobuchar: Did you, are you aware of any research studies your company has conducted about how your apps may push content promoting eating disorders to teens?
Mr. Beckerman: No, Senator.
Sen. Klobuchar: Okay. Did you ask for any internal studies on eating disorders before testifying?
Mr. Beckerman: Not that I’m aware, but we do work with outside experts to understand all of these issues. I think it should be done in a transparent way. As I mentioned earlier, I’d love to see the CAMERA Act pass so we can have additional research in the public domain that all of us can learn from and improve.
Sen. Klobuchar: Okay, I’ll save my questions for Ms. Miller for the next round. Thank you.
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