Mark Zuckerberg accused of having “blood on his hands” in fiery Senate hearing on internet child safety

In a hearing held by the Congress on Wednesday, lawmakers reprimanded Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg as well as four other social media leaders for failing to do enough to protect children online.

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing began with videos showing people describing how they were sexually exploited by Facebook, Instagram, and X. Sen. Lindsey Graham told Zuckerberg he “had blood on his hands.”

Many of the people in attendance at the packed hearing applauded and cheered Graham’s statement.

The chair of the committee, Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin also criticized social media platforms, saying they failed to protect children against being sexually exploited on the internet.

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“Discord was used to abduct, groom and abuse children. Meta’s Instagram connected and promoted a network pedophiles. Snapchat’s disappearing message has been co-opted by criminals to financially sextort their young victims.

Jason Citron of Discord was the first CEO to highlight their child safety policies and pledged to work with legislators, parents, non-profits, and law enforcement in order to protect minors. Meta said that it will spend $5 billion just on safety and security by 2023, while TikTok plans to invest $2 billion by 2024.

When asked by Missouri Republican Josh Hawley if he would apologize to the victims present, Zuckerberg got up and turned around. He told those behind him that Meta’s investment was “to ensure nobody else has to experience the type of things your family members have suffered.”

Zuckerberg refused to agree to Hawley’s suggestion that he create a fund for compensation of victims.

Zuckerberg, speaking about the same subject, said that “it doesn’t necessarily mean that individual people do not have issues.”

Shou Zi Chew, CEO of TikTok, said that the company is strict in its enforcement of its policy prohibiting children under 13 years old from using the app. Linda Yaccarino is the CEO of X, formerly known as Twitter. She said that her company doesn’t cater to minors.

Evan Spiegel, CEO of Snap, has apologized to the parents whose children overdosed after purchasing drugs from Snapshot. “I am so sorry we were not able to stop these tragedies,” said Spiegel. He added that Snap works with law enforcers and blocks search terms related to drugs.

Children’s health advocates claim that social media companies have repeatedly failed to protect minors.

Zamaan Qreshi, cochair of Design It For Us – a youth coalition that advocates for safer social media – said, “When faced with important safety and privacy issues, revenue should not be the primary factor these companies consider.” These companies had the opportunity to do it before, but they didn’t. “Independent regulation is needed.”

Meta is being sued in dozens of state courts. They claim that Meta deliberately designed features on Instagram and Facebook to addict children and that it has failed to protect these children from online predators.

The Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s office released internal emails from Meta executives that show Nick Clegg and others asking Zuckerberg for more employees to “strengthen wellbeing across the company”, as concerns about youth mental health grew.

Growing numbers of legislators are calling for measures to stop the spread of images of child sexual abuse online, and to hold tech platforms responsible for protecting children better. The Wednesday session is part of a push to pass legislation following years of Congress’ inaction in regulating social-media companies.

Spiegel said at the hearing that he supports a federal law to create legal liability for social media platforms and apps that recommend harmful material to minors.

Yaccarino expressed his support for the Stop CSAM Act which would allow victims of child exploitation the right to sue companies that use technology.

Some Republican legislators accused Chew, rather than focusing on TikTok’s policies and practices, of being a Chinese sympathizer.

“Are You Afraid That You’ll Lose Your Job If you Say Anything Negative About the Chinese Communist Party?” Arkansas Republican Tom Cotton asked Chew. Tom Cotton was born in Singapore and now lives there, but he lived in China for 5 years.