Help Me Children

With the explosion of internet technology over the last few decades, Congress has been unable to keep up. While the world wide web has given us connected us to many good experiences, the access of online predators continues to multiply. It’s not unusual to watch a new documentary on catfishing or revenge porn. However, little is being done by big tech to protect victims, especially minors, from being exploited.

The New York Times recently investigated the exponential growth of online child sexual abuse materials. They found that 1 million child pornography materials were reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in 2014 which grew to 18.4 million in 2019. During the lockdowns of the pandemic, children became more vulnerable. While some parents could work from home with their children, others were essential workers whose children were left alone with access to the internet. In March of 2020 alone, over 2 million of these materials were reported. Last year’s number totaled 84.9 million incidences of online exploitation and those were just the ones that were counted. Yet, social media platforms and major companies like Google and Amazon turn a blind eye.

Facebook was a huge contributor to those numbers. When the New York Times conducted their investigation, 12 million reports came from their messaging platform. Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerburg responded by creating encryption mechanisms for private information. However, this just added fuel to the fire. This allowed predators to encrypt their egregious materials which, in turn, hid them from the oversight of the platform.

These heartbreaking numbers are hard to ignore. Many of our federal lawmakers have recognized the need to stand up for children’s privacy. Representatives Sylvia Garcia (D-TX) and Ann Wagner (R-MO) introduced the Earn It Act (H.R. 6544) earlier this year. This bill combines federal civil, state civil, and criminal laws to allow survivors and state attorneys general to sue tech companies for facilitating child sexual abuse material.  Another provision removes any kind of immunity from these websites that knowingly distribute illegal pictures or videos.

To ensure the continual accountability for big tech companies, H.R. 6544 creates a commission of survivors, technology representatives, and lawmakers to craft guidance on responding to this epidemic. Instead of spending their time silencing conservative speech, big tech will have to focus their energy on work that really matters: protecting children.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s CEO Dawn Hawkins lent her support for the bill stating:

The reality is we’ve waited since the dawn of Internet age to help protect children online. These platforms have major flaws. We need tech companies to be partners in creating safe spaces online.

Senators Richard Blumenthal and Lyndsey Graham (R-SC) have introduced a companion bill (S. 3538) in the Senate. The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to weigh in on the bill after August recess. Once either chamber is ready to vote on the passage of the Earn It Act, we will alert you to contact your lawmakers.

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