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Mark Zuckerberg Apologizes for Social Media Harming Children

Mark Zuckerberg, Meta, Facebook CEO
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Credit: Anthony Quintano / Flickr CC BY 2.0

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has apologized to families who say their children had been harmed by social media during a fiery hearing in the US Senate.

Zuckerberg, who runs Instagram and Facebook, turned to them and said, “No one should go through” what they had.

He and the bosses of TikTok, Snap, X, and Discord were questioned for almost four hours by senators from both parties. Lawmakers wanted to know what they are doing to protect children online.

Legislation is currently going through Congress which aims to hold social media companies to account for material posted on their platforms.

Zuckerberg and TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew voluntarily agreed to testify, but the heads of Snap, X (formerly Twitter), and messaging platform Discord initially refused and were sent government-issued subpoenas.

Families angry at Zuckerberg and other social media chiefs

Behind the five tech bosses sat families who said their children had self-harmed or killed themselves as a result of social media content. They made their feelings known throughout, hissing when the CEOs entered and applauding when lawmakers asked tough questions.

They also held up photos of their children as senators questioned the CEOs. Many also wore blue ribbons that read “STOP Online Harms! Pass KOSA!” referring to the Kids Online Safety Act, which would create a duty of care for social media companies.

At one point, Republican Senator Ted Cruz asked, “Mr. Zuckerberg, what the hell were you thinking?” when he showed the tech boss an Instagram prompt that warns users they may be about to see child sexual abuse material, but asks if they would like to “see the results anyway.”

Zuckerberg said the “basic science behind that” is “it’s often helpful to, rather than just blocking it, to help direct them towards something that could be helpful.” He also promised to “personally look into it.”

During another exchange with Republican Senator Josh Hawley, Zuckerberg was invited to apologize to the families sitting behind him. He stood up, turned to the audience and said: “I’m sorry for everything you’ve all gone through, it’s terrible.”

“No-one should have to go through the things that your families have suffered,” he said.

Ahead of the hearing, Meta had announced new safety measures, including that minors will now, by default, be unable to receive messages on Instagram and Messenger from strangers.

Meta and TikTok, with the largest user numbers of the platforms represented, said they had 40,000 moderators each, while Snap said it had 2,300, X had 2,000 and Discord, who said it was smaller, had “hundreds” of moderators.

Discord is a messaging platform and has previously been questioned over how it detects and prevents child abuse across its platform.

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