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

Tech CEOs grilled in Senate hearing on online child exploitation

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and four other leaders of social media companies were reprimanded by lawmakers in a congressional hearing on Wednesday for not doing enough to safeguard kids online.

The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing opened with videos of people describing being sexually exploited on Facebook, Instagram and X, with Sen. Lindsey Graham telling Zuckerberg he had "blood on his hands."

"You have a product that's killing people," said Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, drawing applause and cheers from many of those attending the crowded hearing.

The committee's chair, Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin, also bashed the social media platforms for failing to protect children from being sexually exploited online.

"Discord has been used to groom, abduct and abuse children. Meta's Instagram helped connect and promote a network of pedophiles; Snapchat's disappearing messages have been coopted by criminals who financially sextort young victims," Durbin said in his opening statement.

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, testifying at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on January 31, 2024, in Washington, D.C., apologizes to families who claim their children were hurt by using Facebook. Kent Nishimura/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Starting with Discord's Jason Citron, the CEOs all touted their child safety procedures and vowed to work with lawmakers, parents, nonprofits and law enforcement to protect minors. Meta has said it spent $5 billion on safety and security in 2023 alone, while TikTok said it plans to spend $2 billion in 2024 on the issue. 

Challenged by Missouri Republican Josh Hawley to apologize to victims in the room, Zuckerberg stood up, turned around, telling those seated behind him that their experience is part of why Meta had invested so much "to make sure nobody has to go through the types of things your families have had to suffer."

Zuckerberg declined to commit to Hawley's suggestion that he set up a victim's compensation fund.

The Meta leader repeatedly refuted a link between Facebook and teen mental health, saying "it's important to look at the science, and the bulk does not support that." Later, in speaking on the same topic, Zuckerberg said "it doesn't mean individual people don't have issues." 

TikTok is diligent in enforcing its policy of banning children under 13 from using its app, its CEO Shou Zi Chew stated. Linda Yaccarino, the CEO of X (formerly known as Twitter), said her company does not cater to minors. 

Chicago parents at Senate Judiciary hearing on social media safety

Evan Spiegel, chief executive at Snap, apologized to parents whose kids overdosed on fentanyl after buying drugs on Snapshot. "I'm so sorry that we have not been able to prevent these tragedies," said Spiegel, who added that Snap blocks search terms linked to drugs and works with law enforcement.

Child health advocates say social media companies have failed repeatedly to protect minors.

"When you're faced with really important safety and privacy decisions, the revenue in the bottom line should not be the first factor that these companies are considering," said Zamaan Qureshi, co-chair of Design It For Us, a youth-led coalition advocating for safer social media. "These companies have had opportunities to do this before they failed to do that. So independent regulation needs to step in."

Meta is being sued by dozens of states that say it deliberately designs features on Instagram and Facebook that addict children to its platforms and has failed to protect them from online predators. 

New internal emails between Meta executives released by Sen. Richard Blumenthal's office show Nick Clegg, president of global affairs, and others asking Zuckerberg to hire more people to strengthen "wellbeing across the company" as concerns grew about effects on youth mental health.

A growing number of lawmakers are urging measures to curb the spread of child sexual abuse images online and to make the tech platforms accountable for better safeguarding children. Wednesday's session is part of an effort to pass legislation after years of inaction by Congress in regulating social media companies.  

Spiegel told the hearing he backs a federal bill to create a legal liability for apps and social platforms that recommend harmful content to minors. 

Yaccarino also voiced support for the Stop CSAM Act, which would pave the way for victims of child exploitation to sue technology companies. 

Rather than focus on TikTok's policies, some Republican lawmakers accused Chew of sympathizing with China.

"Are you scared that you'll lose your job if you say anything negative about the Chinese Communist Party?" asked Arkansas Republican Tom Cotton of Chew, who was born and lives in Singapore, but lived in China for five years. 

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report. 


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