Mark Zuckerberg addresses families of kids harmed by Facebook, Instagram

By The Christian Post |
Mark Zuckerberg
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 31, 2024. | C-SPAN/YouTube
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg addressed families who say their children were harmed or killed themselves due to social media during a recent U.S. Senate hearing where lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle questioned Big Tech executives about how their platforms are protecting children online. 

On Wednesday, Zuckerberg joined TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, Discord CEO Jason Citron, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel and X CEO Linda Yaccarino in testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

During his opening statement, Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., referred to online child sexual exploitation in America as a "crisis," warning that messaging applications and social media have provided predators with "powerful new tools" to harm children.

The Democratic senator noted that daily cyber tips to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children regarding online child sexual abuse material reached 100,000 in 2023. 

"Today, we'll hear from the CEOs of those companies. They are not only tech companies that have contributed to this crisis; they are responsible for many of the dangers our children face online," Durbin said.

"Their design choices, their failures to adequately invest in trust and safety, and their constant pursuit of engagement and profit over basic safety have all put our kids and grandkids at risk," he continued. 

At one point during the hearing, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., called on Zuckerberg to apologize to the families sitting in the room. As lawmakers questioned the chief executives of the social media companies, the families sat behind them, with some of them holding photos of their loved ones. 

Zuckerberg's company Meta includes the social media platforms Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. The Meta CEO stood up during the hearing and turned to address the families behind him. 

"I'm sorry for everything you've been through," Zuckerberg, 39, said. "No one should have to go through the things that your families have suffered. And this is why we invest so much and are going to continue doing industry-leading efforts to make sure that no one has to go through the things your families have had to suffer."

In March 2022, Nature Communications journal published a Cambridge University study suggesting a link between social media use and negative life satisfaction in certain adolescents.

Another study published in April 2022 by Acta Psychologica reportedly found a "consistent and substantial association between mental health and social media use" among girls.

A spokesperson for Meta told The Christian Post in June 2022 that the company was working to create new features to help those who may be struggling with "negative social comparison." The spokesperson argued, however, that the company's research didn't conclude that "Instagram is inherently bad for teens." One of the settings the spokesperson told CP that the company introduced was "Take a Break" to encourage teenagers to spend time away from Instagram.

Regarding the issue of online child sex abuse material, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, also questioned Zuckerberg about the promotion of these types of images on Instagram.

Cruz said Instagram has a warning screen telling users, "These results may contain images of child sexual abuse" before asking if they'd like to proceed and see the images or "get resources."  

"Senator, the basic science behind that when people are searching for something that is problematic, it's often rather than just blocking it to help direct them toward something that could be helpful for them to get help," Zuckerberg responded after Cruz asked the CEO about the thought process behind this feature.  

The Republican senator continued to press Zuckerberg, asking why the platform allows users to select the option to see the images. Zuckerberg said it was because the platform could be "wrong," and there is a chance the results don't include child abuse material. Cruz followed up by asking how often the platform displays the wording on the screen. 

The Meta CEO said that he did not know the answer off the top of his head, and he promised the senator that he would "personally look into it."

Originally published by The Christian Post