WASHINGTON: Meta Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg apologised to families at a US Senate hearing on Wednesday about the impact that social media has on children.
The hearing marks the latest effort by lawmakers to address the concerns of parents and mental health experts that social media companies put profits over guardrails that would ensure their platforms do not harm children.
Under prodding from Republican Senator Josh Hawley, Zuckerberg stood up and addressed families who held up pictures of their children who they said had been harmed by social media.
Zuckerberg testified along with X CEO Linda Yaccarino, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew and Discord CEO Jason Citron.
Lawmakers addressed complaints that social media firms put profits over measures to protect children from abuse
As the hearing kicked off, the committee played a video in which children spoke about being bullied on social media platforms. Senators recounted stories of young people taking their own lives after being extorted for money after sharing photos with sexual predators. “Would you like now to apologise to the victims who have been harmed by your product?” Hawley asked, noting the hearing was being broadcast on live television.
Zuckerberg stood up, turned around, and addressed the families.
“I’m sorry for everything you have all been through. No one should go through the things that your families have suffered and this is why we invest so much and we are going to continue doing industry-wide efforts to make sure no one has to go through the things your families have had to suffer,” he said.
Hawley aggressively criticised Zuckerberg during a contentious exchange. “Your product is killing people,” Hawley told Zuckerberg, whose firm owns social media platforms Facebook and Instagram.
‘Blood on your hands’
One lawmaker accused the social media companies of having “blood on your hands” for failing to protect children from escalating threats of sexual predation on their platforms.
“Mr Zuckerberg, you and the companies before us, I know you don’t mean it to be so, but you have blood on your hands,” said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, referring to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “You have a product that’s killing people.”
Senator Dick Durbin, the judiciary committee’s Democratic chairman, cited statistics from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a non-profit group, that showed skyrocketing growth in financial “sextortion”, in which a predator tricks a minor into sending explicit photos and videos.
“This disturbing growth in child sexual exploitation is driven by one thing: changes in technology,” Durbin said during the hearing.
As the hearing kicked off, the committee played a video in which children spoke about being victimised on social media.
“I was sexually exploited on Facebook,” said one child in the video, who appeared in shadow.