Families Plead for Protection of Minors, Accountability from Social Media Platforms
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Yesterday on Capitol Hill, dozens of parents who have lost a child watched as senators grilled tech CEOs about shortfalls when it comes to protecting minors on social media.
They say the atrocities that have impacted their families are occurring far too often on social media platforms.
In March 2022, 17-year-old Jordan DeMay took his own life after becoming the target of sexual extortion, or "sextortion" on the social media app, Instagram.
“He was really a fun, loving kid. He was hardworking, he played football, he played basketball. He loved listening to music. He was super close to his family, he has four younger siblings and very close and involved in their lives,” said Jennifer Buta, Jordan’s mother.
Prosecutors say, DeMay, who was a senior at Marquette Senior High School in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, was one of dozens targeted by Nigerian men posing as young women and demanding intimate photos and then money not to release the photos.
Jordan’s story is one of thousands across the country on apps like Instagram, TikTok and Facebook.
“Social media companies have virtually no liability for anything that happens on their platforms,” said Buta.
“This committee is done with talking,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R- SC) during Wednesday’s hearing where he, and other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee grilled the tech moguls.
Lawmakers discussed several bills to hold the companies accountable:
The STOP CSAM Act: Support victims and increases accountability and transparency for online platforms;
The EARN IT Act: Removes tech’s 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 the nonconsensual distribution of sexual imagery;
The Project Safe Childhood Act: Modernizes the investigation and prosecution of online child exploitation crimes; and,
The REPORT Act: Combats the rise in online child sexual exploitation by establishing new measures to help strengthen reporting of those crimes to the CyberTipline.
“Nothing will change until the courtroom door is open to victims of social media,” said Graham.
In 2022, social media platforms generated $11 billion in revenue from advertising directed at children and teenagers.
“People are profits to these companies. And the people in this situation are our children,” said Buta.
Buta says tech company CEOs, like Meta's Mark Zuckerberg, need to be held accountable to ensure what happened to Jordan never happens again.
“I would tell him (Zuckerberg) that he needs to do better to protect the other children that are using his application. No matter what at this point, my son cannot be saved, and there is no dollar amount that you can place on my son's life. But he needs to protect the people that are here now and using his applications,” said Buta.
“Social media can be a great place for creativity, meeting people, but it also can be a dangerous place. Talk to your children about the dangers that can happen on social media,” she added.
Sexual extortion or “sextortion” can take many forms. Through various ruses and exploits, victims are lured to share compromising images or engage in compromising conversations. Girls and women are often extorted to produce more sexually explicit pictures, while boys and men are commonly extorted for money. In all cases, the perpetrators use embarrassment and shame with the threat of disclosure to leverage what they want. The sextortion can cause enormous stress and crisis for victims.
Meta offers the following safety tips if you are a teen or the parent of a teen if you suspect “Sextortion.”
- Stop engaging with the person harassing you
- Block their account to limit further interactions
- Report them within the app immediately
- Tell a trusted friend or parent what’s happening
- Go to TakeItDown.NCMEC.org to prevent your intimate images from being spread online
- Talk to law enforcement if you feel you’ve been taken advantage of.
Additionally, if you have information about or believe you are a victim of sextortion, contact your local FBI field office, call 1-800-CALL-FBI, or report it online at http://tips.fbi.gov. This FBI PSA and National Center for Missing and Exploited Children PSA share survivor stories and resources for individuals to get help. More FBI sexual extortion resources are available here.