Over the last two weeks, Senate Judiciary Committee has advanced out of Committee a package of four bipartisan bills that would require social media companies to adhere to new online safety standards for children – or pay a price

WASHINGTON – In a speech on the Senate floor, U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, urged his colleagues to support a package of bipartisan bills that aim to stop the exploitation of children online.  In his remarks, Durbin described how social media companies design their products to keep children hooked to their platforms, and discussed the serious, even deadly, harms that children face online, as well as the inadequate efforts of social media companies to protect children against these harms. 

“Social media now fills the role that broadcast TV once did in the lives of our kids.  Yet federal laws currently allow social media companies to endanger our children with near total immunity.  Social media companies can, and regularly do, sell children’s personal information for profit, allow bullies to hound children mercilessly, and allow drug dealers and sexual predators to hunt for child victims on their platforms.  And our laws, as we have currently written them, make it nearly impossible for victims to hold these companies accountable,” said Durbin.  “This has to change.  The Senate Judiciary Committee is taking bipartisan action to see that it does.” 

Durbin went on to discuss the four bills that have recently advanced out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a bipartisan basis as part of the Stopping the Exploitation of Kids Online legislative package. Durbin’s Strengthening Transparency and Obligations to Protect Children Suffering from Abuse and Mistreatment Act of 2023 (STOP CSAM Act) supports victims and increases accountability and transparency for online platforms.  The EARN IT Act creates targeted exceptions to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 to remove blanket immunity from civil and criminal liability under child sexual abuse material laws and establishes a National Commission on Online Child Sexual Exploitation Prevention.  The SHIELD Act ensures that federal prosecutors have appropriate and effective tools to address serious privacy violations.  And the Project Safe Childhood Act modernizes the investigation and prosecution of online child exploitation crimes. 

“We cannot continue to place the responsibility for protecting children online entirely on these children, even their parents, and even child advocacy groups alone.  No matter how concerned and vigilant they are, parents stand virtually no chance against social media companies that use powerful algorithms to hook kids, to make profit off of them, and [who] cannot be held accountable in a court of law for the harm their products cause,” Durbin said.  “Well Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee want to change that.  Over the last two weeks, we have voted out of our Committee a package of four bipartisan bills that would require Facebook, Snapchat, and other social media companies to adhere to new online safety standards for children or pay a price.  And the price would be anything from significant fines to civil judgments to criminal prosecution.  I say enough is enough." 

Durbin concluded, “We can and we will balance the need to protect free speech and the need to protect our kids from harm.  What we will not do is accept the status quo where some social media companies continue to destroy lives and make fast fortunes by exploiting a legal loophole that can no longer be justified.  We hope our colleagues will join us in protecting America’s children and teenagers from online harm.”

Video of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here for TV Stations.

As Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Durbin is committed to ensuring children’s online safety.  In February, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing entitled, “Protecting Our Children Online,” which included powerful testimony from those working to increase children’s privacy and safety online.  Durbin’s opening statement from that hearing is available here and witness questions are available here

In the Senate, Durbin has introduced legislation to strengthen online privacy protections for children when websites collect their personally identifiable information.  Earlier this year, he introduced the Clean Slate for Kids Online Act, legislation that would give every American an enforceable legal right to demand that internet companies delete all personal information that was collected from or about the person when he or she was a child under age 13.