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Technology

TikTok, YouTube and Snapchat defend impact on kids at US hearing

Joshua Melvin - Agence France-Presse
TikTok, YouTube and Snapchat defend impact on kids at US hearing
Ranking Member Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) speaks during a Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security hearing on Protecting Kids Online: Snapchat, TikTok, and YouTube on October 26, 2021 in Washington, DC. Social media companies have come under increased scrutiny after a whistleblower exposed controversial issues with Facebook and how they utilized algorithms to increase user engagement.
Samuel Corum/Getty Images/AFP

WASHINGTON, United States — Three social media networks massively popular with the youngest users — TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube — tried to convince skeptical US lawmakers Tuesday they are safe as worry about Facebook's potential harms spills over to other platforms.

Video-sharing app TikTok and photo network Snapchat, in their first testimony to US senators, argued they are built to protect against the mental health and safety risks present on social media.

"Your defense is, 'We're not Facebook,'" Senator Richard Blumenthal told the networks' representatives. "Being different from Facebook is not a defense, that bar is in the gutter."

"Everything you do is to add users, especially kids, and keep them on your apps," he continued.

While a recent whistleblower-fueled controversy has focused on Facebook's knowledge that its sites could cause harm, other social media giants also grapple with safety issues.

"Snapchat was built as an antidote to social media," said Jennifer Stout, Snap VP of global public policy, noting images on the platform delete by default.

Under questioning later in the hearing, she said the company is making efforts to crack down on the drug dealing that has proliferated on the platform, with sometimes deadly consequences.

TikTok, which said in September that it has one billion active users, has fast become a phenomenon among youths and argued it is a different kind of platform.

"TikTok is not a social network based on followers.... You watch TikToks, you create on TikTok," said Michael Beckerman, TikTok's head of public policy in the Americas.

Yet the app has been attacked on charges its algorithm can serve content to kids, for example, that encourages dangerous weight loss or introduces them to viral challenges that promote the destruction of school property.

'How long will this continue?'

The site also became a political battleground after then-president Donald Trump targeted the app in 2020 for a subsequently abandoned shutdown effort on the argument the platform represented a national security risk because of its links to China. 

The ByteDance subsidiary, whose equivalent in China is called Douyin, nevertheless remains well behind YouTube, which claimed 2.3 billion monthly active users in 2020.

Though 13 is the official minimum age limit to join most social media platforms, both TikTok and YouTube have versions that are aimed at younger children.

"Our child safety-specific policies... prohibit content that exploits or endangers minors on YouTube," said Leslie Miller, vice president of public policy at YouTube.

She added that between April and June its moderators removed nearly 1.8 million videos that violated policy. 

YouTube has battled with a surge in Covid-19 and vaccine misinformation as the pandemic drove people online looking for information.

Senator Marsha Blackburn, who was co-chairing the hearing, drew little difference among the platforms and their arguments for safety.

"For too long we have allowed platforms to promote and glorify dangerous content for its kid and teen users," she said. "How long are we going to let this continue?"

Facebook, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg, has delivered testimony repeatedly before US lawmakers and is facing one of its worst crises ever with the leaking of thousands of internal studies to authorities and journalists.

However, the company has previously been hit by major scandals that did not translate into major new US legislation aimed at regulating social media.

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LATEST UPDATE: January 16, 2022 - 8:55am

Get the latest news about Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms. Main image from by Pixelkult from Pixabay 

January 16, 2022 - 8:55am

Top bosses of Google and Facebook were directly involved in approving an allegedly illegal 2018 deal to cement their dominance of the online advertising market, US court documents revealed Friday.

The records, part of an anti-trust lawsuit by a coalition of US states targeting Google, make serious allegations against Big Tech giants long accused of holding monopolies.

According to the states' accusations, the online search colossus sought to oust competition by manipulating ad auctions — the ultra-sophisticated system that determines which ads appear on web pages based on the anonymized profiles of internet users. — AFP

January 2, 2022 - 9:27am

US authorities have asked telecom operators AT&T and Verizon to delay for up to two weeks their already postponed rollout of 5G networks amid uncertainty about interference with vital flight safety equipment.

The two companies said Saturday they are reviewing the request.

The US rollout of the high-speed mobile broadband technology had been set for December 5, but was delayed to January 5 after aerospace giants Airbus and Boeing raised concerns about potential interference with the devices planes use to measure altitude. — AFP

December 31, 2021 - 11:11am

Palestinian journalists have raised the alarm over what they describe as unjust suppression of their content on Facebook, a claim backed by rights groups but rejected by the social media giant.

On December 4, Palestine TV correspondent Christine Rinawi posted a video on her Facebook account in which Israeli security forces were seen shooting a Palestinian on the ground, killing him. He had just carried out a knife attack on an Israeli civilian. 

Shortly after she posted her video, Rinawi, who has nearly 400,000 followers, noticed it had been removed from her account. — AFP

December 17, 2021 - 10:38am

Facebook parent Meta bans a series of "cyber mercenary" groups, and begins alerting some 50,000 people likely targeted by the firms accused of spying on activists, dissidents and journalists worldwide.

Meta took down 1,500 Facebook and Instagram pages linked to groups with services allegedly ranging from scooping up public information online to using fake personas to build trust with targets or digital snooping via hack attacks.

The social media giant also started warning about 50,000 people it believes may have been targeted in more than 100 nations by firms that include several from Israel, which is a leading player in the cybersurveillance business. — AFP

December 10, 2021 - 10:47am

When website addresses using writing systems like Chinese and Arabic were introduced back in 2009, it was hailed as a step that would transform the internet.

But 12 years later, the vast majority of the web remains wedded to the Roman alphabet -- and ICANN, the organisation in charge of protecting the internet's infrastructure, is on a mission to change it.

"The truth of the matter is that even if half the world's population uses the internet today, it's the elite of the world -- mainly those living in cities, mainly those with a good income," Goran Marby, head of the US-based non-profit, told AFP in an interview. 

"Shouldn't we give people the opportunity to use their own scripts, their own keyboards, their own narratives?"

It's thanks to ICANN — the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers — that when you type an address at the top of the screen, your computer can find the web page you're looking for.

These days it's theoretically possible to type an address in more than 150 scripts, including obscure ones like ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, and watch the page load.

But large parts of the internet remain incompatible with writing systems other than the Latin alphabet. Many US websites, for example, would not allow you to make a purchase or subscribe to their newsletter if you entered an email address in Tamil or Hebrew. — AFP

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