Blackburn Speaks On Senate Floor About The Dangers Of Big Tech

October 29, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) gave remarks on the Senate floor about the dangers of Big Tech.

To watch Senator Blackburn’s speech, click below or here.

You can read the transcript below or in the Congressional Record.

Last week, a Tennessee director of  schools named Russell sent me an email about a problem he is having  with some of his students. The so-called devious lick TikTok trend caught on in his district, and it is more than just a viral gag.  

The idea behind this devious lick TikTok trend is to destroy school 

property and document it on TikTok so that all the world can see--the 

more violent, the better.


 Here is how Russell described what is going on in his schools:

 In Cleveland City Schools, we have seen fire extinguishers  stolen, mirrors removed from walls, a toilet was removed from  its foundation, and multiple other acts of vandalism. I know  of stories from other school districts, where even more  serious types of vandalism and theft have taken place.


He went on to tell me that this trend has caused thousands of dollars 

in damage, and that he has had to resort to threatening suspensions, 

court citations and other actions to deter students from demolishing 

school property--all from a TikTok video trend.


I want to state for the record that this is absolutely insane. This 

is not normal teenage behavior. It is criminal activity, and these kids 

are posting it online thinking that they are building social media 



TikTok banned the trending hashtag, but last night, it took a member 

of my staff about 10 seconds to unearth posts featuring students 

trashing their school bathrooms.


Russell is at a loss as to how to get his students to stop body 

slamming doors off their hinges, and so are thousands of parents all 

across Tennessee who are wondering how it is even possible that a tech 

company is getting away with encouraging criminal behavior in its 

underage users.


They want more than just an apology and a tweak to an algorithm. They 

are looking for accountability, and I am happy to say that we at the 

Senate Commerce Committee are working to get that accountability from 

these Big Tech companies.


The issue of Big Tech's toxic influence on children and teens is 

finally getting some much-needed bipartisan attention from the Senate. 

Earlier this month, I hosted a hearing in the Commerce Committee's 

Consumer Protection Subcommittee with Chairman Blumenthal, where we 

examined Facebook's role in promoting content to teenagers that drove 

young users into spirals of despair, eating disorders, self-harm, and 

suicidal thoughts.


Now, our ideas about what Congress should do to force accountability 

into the equation might differ a bit, but maybe for the first time 

ever, the relationship between Republicans and Democratic tech 

watchdogs in this Chamber is far less contentious than the relationship 

between Big Tech and Members of Congress. And, Madam President, that is 

something worth noting.


If we keep this up, Silicon Valley, as they currently operate, is in 

for some big changes because, as much as I appreciate our role as 

lawmakers, I also believe in the importance of our ability to compel 

transparency from officials and companies that refuse to offer it up 

voluntarily. Sunlight is often a better disinfectant than legislation.


Fortunately, at least some players in tech are reading the writing on 

the wall. Tomorrow, representatives from YouTube, Snapchat, and TikTok 

will testify before the Consumer Protection Subcommittee regarding 

safety protocols they have inserted between underage users and the 

seediest corners of the internet. Yes, I did say ``underage users.''


I want to thank them in advance for agreeing to appear because we are 

not going to take it easy on them. They should not expect a comfortable 

day. We have evidence that these platforms have endangered children and 

teens while collecting--yes, collecting--their personal data and 

leveraging it through the advertising side of their businesses. The 

danger is real.


As we were preparing for the hearing, my staff hopped on YouTube and 

searched for ``how to slit your wrists,'' and the videos YouTube spit 

out--well, let's just say that any questions about how to do such a 

thing were answered in full, unfortunately.


Earlier this year, a 9-year-old boy in Memphis died trying to 

participate in a TikTok ``strangulation challenge'' that had gone 



And we know for a fact that child predators use Snapchat to troll for 

victims. This spring, law enforcement arrested a 48-year-old man for 

statutory rape after they caught him with a 16-year-old girl.


Where did he meet her? On Snapchat.


We also have serious questions about data collection and disclosure 

policies and whether or not the market research tactics that are used 

by YouTube, Snapchat, and TikTok are as invasive and dangerous as the 

ones that we now know Facebook uses.


As the saying goes, if the service is free, you are the product. And 

if we let them, tech companies will continue grooming our kids into 

accepting status as commodities and being their product, regardless of 

who it hurts.


Big Tech's relationship with children is a problem, but we also need 

adult tech enthusiasts to care about their own entanglements with these 

companies. We need everyone to care about how their own ``virtual you'' 

is harvested and sold to the highest bidder.


Many adult users believe that, because they have lived so much of 

their lives online, these things don't matter anymore. But, yes, 

indeed, it does matter, and I will give you just one example of why.


 For a long time now, we have raised serious concerns about the 

Connection between TikTok and the Chinese Communist Party. We suspect, with very 

good reason, that ByteDance, which is TikTok's parent company, handed 

over biometrics and other sensitive user data to the Chinese Communist 

Party. This app has been Beijing's very best detective, a fact most 

users aren't aware of and don't want to give a second thought to.


Parents are completely unaware that TikTok is owned by ByteDance and 

that they are in cahoots with the Chinese Communist Party. Parents are 

unaware that the biometrics and other sensitive data of their precious 

children is now in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.


Madam President, we just cannot afford to continue this. This one app 

on its own is a master class on artificial intelligence, machine 

learning, and facial recognition technology, and our most dangerous 

competitor is using it to corner the market on the world's most 

valuable commodity: the virtual you.


It is all part of Beijing's grand strategy to gain control over 

strategically important sectors of the global economy. Yes, indeed, 

they intend to be globally dominant by the time we get to the midpoint 

of the century; and, yes, indeed, they are an adversary.

  We see them carrying out more of this agenda via the Belt and Road 

Initiative programs. And they are doing it online by training us to 

consume content that is so twisted that it drives young users to 

violence and to self-destructive behavior.


 Interconnectivity has benefits and consequences, and, Madam 

President, it is an urgent need to take action against the 

consequences. We know from previous investigations that digital content 

is a weapon. It can damage self-esteem, destroy relationships, and tip 

the balance of global power in the wrong direction.


I hear from Tennesseans like Russell regularly. They will say: We saw 

this coming a mile away. We have watched this become a snowball rolling 

toward us.


They are appreciative that Congress has finally caught up to them--

parents and teachers who are watching what is happening on social 

media--and they are ready for us to pull all those Big Tech skeletons 

out of the closet and put them on display.


I will say this: These teachers and parents are not people who are 

anti-innovation. They don't want to get in the way of private companies 

offering exciting new products. They appreciate interconnectivity, and 

they appreciate technology. But what they won't do is tolerate these 

companies--tolerate them trolling the data of our children, selling it 

as a product, and then turning around and weaponizing the content 

against us, the American people.


Big Tech needs to understand that we are not going to hold back, and 

it would be in their best interest to work with us on the issues of 

online privacy, children's online privacy, data security, and make the 

virtual space a safe space.