For Tammy Rodriguez, online safety for kids is literally a matter of life and death. Her 11-year-old daughter, Selena, died by suicide after an extreme social media addiction led to sexual exploitation by online predators.
“I had no idea that it could get to that. 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. That, you know, it seems like these big tech companies, they know exactly how to make it work for them. And the parents don’t know what’s going on.”
Rodriguez said her daughter’s relationship with social media “started out very innocent.”
“I would let her take Snapchat pictures, you know with the pictures with the filters, and we would save it to the phone, and you know, wasn’t anything more than that,” she said. “Or TikTok? I would let her do the dances and it would just be saved to the drafts, which was fine. Everything was private. I made sure it was all private on there.”
But, she said, things then spiraled out of control.
“There were nights where she would have four devices open around her on the bed and have something going on in each one,” Rodriguez said.
She said she only learned after her daughter’s death, when lawyers were able to get ahold of the information, that Selena had seven Instagram accounts.
“I had no idea about seven Instagram accounts,” she said. “And she had men that were contacting her to exploit her.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee has summoned the CEOs of TikTok, Snap, Meta, X and Discord to testify on what it called their “failure to protect children online.”
Democratic committee chair Sen. Dick Durbin and Republican ranking member Sen. Lindsey Graham sat down with CBS News for an exclusive joint interview.
“The parents are fighting a losing battle,” Durbin said. “Parents doing their very best cannot keep up with this technology. And these companies have the singular responsibility to police this.”
The senators, who are on opposite sides of the aisle and occupy seats on a notoriously partisan committee, both noted that concerns over social media can be found across the political spectrum.
“This is certainly an issue which transcends politics,” said Durbin. “This is personal. This is for families. There’s so much sexual exploitation of children going on on the internet that I think everyone feels that we need to do something, and quickly.”
Graham said he had “never seen so many people of different backgrounds of different political leanings feel helpless, begging us to do something.”
The senators’ goal is to pass comprehensive regulations and amend Section 230, a law that shields most tech giants from being sued by users.
“I can’t believe that in America, in 2024, the largest businesses in the history of mankind, social media, are unregulated,” Graham said. “There’s not one law on the books protecting consumers. And you can’t sue ’em!”
Rodriguez has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Meta and Snap, however, with the support of the Social Media Victims Law Center. The lawsuit alleges the companies designed “defective products that caused series injuries to users.
“They need to be held accountable in Congress, and they need to be held accountable to the families who have lost a child at their hands,” she said.
A Meta spokesperson told CBS News in a statement, “We want to reassure every parent that we have their interests at heart in the work we’re doing to help provide teens with safe experiences online. We’ve developed more than 30 tools and features to do this, including ways for parents to set time limits for their teens on our apps, age verification technology, automatically restricting teens under 16 from receiving DMs from people they don’t follow, and sending notifications encouraging teens to take regular breaks. These are complex issues but we will continue working with experts and listening to parents to develop new tools, features and policies that are effective and meet the needs of teens and their families.”
A Snap spokesperson in a statement said, “Snapchat was designed differently from 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 feed of content that encourages passive scrolling and is primarily used to help real friends communicate.”
“While we will always have more work to do, we feel good about the role Snapchat plays in helping friends feel connected, informed, happy, and prepared as they face the many challenges of adolescence,” the spokesperson said.
Durbin conceded that revamping the laws governing social media “is not an easy assignment. But the fact of the matter is, we’re gonna do something.”
Rodriguez will be watching.
“We’re Selena’s voice now,” she said.
If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or a suicidal crisis, you can reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988. You can also chat with the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline 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.–10 p.m. ET, at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), by texting “HelpLine” to 62640, or by emailing email@example.com.