While the internet and social media platforms present the opportunity for connection and engagement, they also pose serious risks for children. A recent study found that 40 percent of children under the age of 13 are using social media platforms, including: TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. One third of those children report experiencing some form of online sexual interaction, a term which includes solicitation for or receipt of nude photographs. A second study found that nearly half of all American children surveyed indicate that they have been made to feel uncomfortable, been bullied, or had an interaction of a sexual nature while online. According to the FBI, there are an estimated 500,000 active, online predators each day, and over 50 percent of the victims of online sexual exploitation are between the ages of 12 and 15. This is a serious and unacceptable societal problem that can no longer be ignored.
Simply put, we have an obligation to do a better job protecting children from online predators. Parents have a responsibility to monitor their children’s online conduct, but that task has been made more complicated by the fact that Big Tech has constructed barriers that make it difficult for them to effectively do so. Also, the federal government should not provide a liability shield to any company that negligently facilitates or allows any form of child pornography or child exploitation on their platform. Big Tech has failed to put safeguards in place that would help keep our children safe and they have spent years turning a blind eye to illegal content on their platforms. It is time to end protections for these crimes and give enhanced support to children who have been victimized and exploited. This week, I released draft legislation to achieve this moral imperative as part of the House Republican’s Big Tech Accountability package. Specifically, my draft bill will remove federal protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act for Big Tech businesses that allow child pornography and child exploitation in circumstances when it was reasonably foreseeable that the illegal content was on their platform.
Law enforcement agencies face a daunting task when trying to protect children from predatory online behavior, encountering legal roadblocks and obfuscation rather than cooperation when trying to engage Big Tech leaders in the investigatory and prosecutorial processes. We must empower law enforcement to go after bad actors, provide them with additional tools to keep kids safe, and make it easier for them to do their jobs. My draft legislation directs the GAO to conduct a study on how Big Tech companies can better work with law enforcement to address illegal content and crimes on their platforms. The bottom line is that we can do better. Our children must be able to harness the potential promise of the internet without falling prey to those who wish to exploit and harm them. This draft legislation is still in the early stages of development, and I am open to input from my constituents. If you have suggestions about how Congress can give parents and law enforcement better tools to protect children, please send them to ChildOnlineProtection@mail.house.gov.
My draft legislative proposals were among more than 30 draft bills released by my conference colleagues on the Energy and Commerce Committee this week. Together these drafts reflect our mutual desire to improve transparency and content moderation accountability, reform Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, promote competition, and prevent illegal and harmful activity on their platforms. I am optimistic that we can find bipartisan, common ground on these important issues impacting the lives of millions of Americans. Big Tech has proven that it cannot be trusted to be good stewards of their platforms, and we must take action to implement meaningful and necessary change.
Gus Bilirakis represents the 12th District of Florida. He is ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee.