Senator Josh Hawley

Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley questions witnesses on Tuesday during a hearing held by the Senate Judiciary Committee on online protections for children.

Big tech companies fail to change their ways even in the face of criticism over exposing children to pedophiles, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley says. The reason, he adds, isn’t hard to figure out.

“The reason is money,” the lawmaker said Wednesday. “The reason is they make 70 percent or more of their money, of their revenues, from this kind of auto-referral.”

Hawley has taken Silicon Valley firms to task this year for a number of things, most recently aiming at the inadequate protections provided to young people online.

On Tuesday, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled “Protecting Innocence in a Digital World,” the Missouri Republican focused his attention on YouTube and its algorithm that automatically refers home videos of minors to those who might prey on children.

Legislation called the Protecting Children from Online Predators Act has been introduced by Hawley, who said YouTube could add security to child content but has shown no inclination to do so.

“I’m afraid it’s typical of these big tech companies,” he said. “At the end of the day, what they’re most interested in is making a quick buck.”

In an interview Wednesday with News-Press NOW, Hawley said parents have no idea that videos of their children have been referred in this way. Pedophiles can track and get in contact with the children.

“We know that child exploitation online is becoming an epidemic,” Hawley said.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Sen. Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican, recalled her girlhood and warnings about getting lured into a stranger’s van.

“Now that hypothetical van has gone away and we have those who want to exploit our children using the internet as their van,” she said.

Christopher McKenna, founder of an online safety organization called Protect Young Eyes, testified at the hearing that sexual predators use social media platforms to identify and “groom” children.

He noted that a poll of 2,000 teens revealed that almost 75 percent of respondents said they had gotten pornographic direct messages from strangers, even on private accounts.

“The business model based on reach and engagement is one that absolutely conflicts with protection,” McKenna said in fielding a question from Hawley. “In no other places where we have significant numbers of children spending time do we allow so few controls to govern those environments.”

Another piece of legislation Hawley introduced, the Supporting and Treating Officers in Crisis Act, got approval in the U.S. House on Wednesday and goes to the White House for President Trump’s signature. It had earlier passed in the Senate.

The measure provides grants for local law enforcement agencies, the funds to be used for suicide-prevention programs and mental health services for officers.

“These heroes show up every day to protect and serve our communities, so it’s important that we show up for them,” Hawley said after the House action.

Ken Newton can be reached

at ken.newton@newspressnow.com.

Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPNewton.