For Tammy Rodriguez, children’s online safety is literally a matter of life and death. Her 11-year-old daughter, Selena, committed suicide after an extreme addiction to social media led to sexual exploitation by online predators.
“I had no idea it could come to this. I would have never let her have it in the beginning,” Rodriguez told CBS News. “These are all things that are all hidden in the background. You know, it seems like these big tech companies know exactly how to make this work for them. And parents don’t know what’s going on.”
Rodriguez said her daughter’s relationship with social media “started out very innocently.”
“I would let her take photos on Snapchat, you know, with the photos with the filters, and we would save them on the phone, and you know, it was nothing more,” she said. “Or TikTok? I’d let her do the dances and it would just save in the drafts, which was nice. It was all private. I made sure it was all private there.”
But, she says, things then spiraled out of control.
“There were nights where she had four devices open around her on the bed and something was happening in all of them,” Rodriguez said.
She said she only learned after her daughter’s death, when lawyers were able to obtain the information, that Selena had seven Instagram accounts.
“I had no idea there were seven Instagram accounts,” she said. “And she had men contacting her to exploit her.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee summoned the CEOs of TikTok, Snap, Meta, X and Discord to testify about what it called their “failure to protect children online.”
Democratic Committee Chairman Sen. Dick Durbin and Republican member Sen. Lindsey Graham spoke with CBS News for an exclusive joint interview.
“Parents are fighting a losing battle,” Durbin said. “Parents who are doing their best can’t keep up with this technology. And these companies have a unique responsibility to control that.”
The senators, who are on opposite sides of the aisle and hold seats on a notoriously partisan committee, both noted that concerns about social media are found across the political spectrum.
“It’s certainly an issue that transcends politics,” Durbin said. “This is personal. This is for families. There is so much child sexual exploitation on the Internet that I think everyone feels we need to do something, and quickly.”
Graham said he had “never seen so many people from different backgrounds and different political leanings feeling helpless, begging us to do something.”
The senators’ goal is to pass comprehensive regulations and amend Section 230, a law that protects most tech giants from lawsuits from users.
“I can’t believe that in America, in 2024, the biggest business in human history, social media, is not regulated,” Graham said. “There isn’t a single law protecting consumers. And you can’t sue them!”
Rodriguez, however, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Meta and Snap, with support from the Social Media Victims Law Center. The lawsuit alleges that the companies designed “defective products that caused serial injuries to users.”
“They need to be held accountable to Congress, and they need to be held accountable to the families who have lost a child at their hands,” she said.
A spokesperson for Meta told CBS News in a statement: “We want to reassure all parents that we have their best interests at heart in the work we do to help provide safe online experiences for teens. We’ve developed over 30 tools and features to do this, including ways for parents to set time limits for their teens on our apps, age verification technology, automatic banning of teens under 16-year-olds from receiving direct messages from people they don’t follow and sending notifications encouraging teens to take regular breaks are complex issues, but we will continue to work with experts and listen to parents to develop new tools, features and policies that are effective and meet the needs of adolescents and their families.
A Snap spokesperson said in a statement: “Snapchat was designed differently than other social media platforms because nothing is more important to us than the well-being of our community. Our app opens directly to a camera rather than a content stream which encourages passivity. scrolling and is mainly used to help real friends communicate.
“While we will always have more work to do, we are pleased with the role Snapchat plays in helping our friends feel connected, informed, happy, and prepared for the many challenges of adolescence,” the spokesperson said. .
Durbin acknowledged that revamping the laws governing social media “is not an easy task. But the fact is we are going to do something.”
Rodriguez will watch.
“We are now the voice of Selena,” she said.
If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or suicidal crisis, you can reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis lifeline by calling or texting 988. You can also chat with the 988 Suicide lifeline & Crisis here.
For more information about mental health care resources and support, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. ET, at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), by texting “HelpLine” to 62640, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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