Washington D.C: In a rare and emotional moment, Meta Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg apologized to the parents of children who had been exploited, bullied, or driven to self-harm by using social media platforms. Zuckerberg, who runs Facebook and Instagram, made the apology during a Senate hearing on Wednesday, where he and other tech CEOs faced tough questions about their efforts to protect kids from harm online.
The hearing, which was held by the Senate Judiciary Committee, featured the testimonies of Zuckerberg, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, X (formerly Twitter) CEO Linda Yaccarino, Snap (Snapchat) CEO Evan Spiegel and Discord CEO Jason Citron. The tech leaders were asked to explain what they are doing to prevent online child sexual exploitation and abuse, cyberbullying, suicide and self-harm, and other risks that children face on their platforms.
The hearing began with a video of children sharing their experiences of being bullied on social media, followed by stories of young people who had taken their own lives after being blackmailed by sexual predators who had obtained their explicit photos. Behind the tech CEOs, several families held up pictures of their children who they said had been harmed by social media use.
One of the most heated exchanges occurred between Zuckerberg and Republican Senator Josh Hawley, who accused him of having “blood on his hands” for failing to protect children from his “killing” product. Hawley challenged Zuckerberg to apologize to the victims who were present at the hearing, which was broadcast live on television.
Zuckerberg then stood up, turned around, and addressed the families directly. He said: “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 then resumed his seat and defended Meta’s investments in “industry-wide” efforts to protect children, such as the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, the Technology Coalition, and the WePROTECT Global Alliance. He also highlighted some of the features and policies that Meta has implemented to prevent and remove harmful content, such as age verification, parental controls, reporting tools, and artificial intelligence.
The other tech CEOs also outlined their measures to safeguard children on their platforms, such as content moderation, user education, safety partnerships, and research. They also expressed their willingness to work with lawmakers and regulators to address the challenges and gaps in the current legal framework.
The hearing was part of a broader effort by the US Congress to hold the tech industry accountable for the impact of their products on children and society. Several bills have been introduced to reform Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which grants immunity to online platforms for the content posted by their users. Some lawmakers have also proposed to create a new federal agency to oversee the online safety of children.