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
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
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
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.