In a high-stakes session titled Big Tech and the Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis, the giants of the tech industry put themselves under the lens of the US Senate Judiciary Committee. Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Meta, along with the top executives of TikTok, X, Discord, and Snap, were faced with a barrage of tough questions and concerns from legislators at the hearing about the impact of social media on the safety of children and teenagers and their role in curbing it.
The Tech companies were being accused them of not doing enough to address the dangers that young users encounter on their platforms. These dangers were detailed as ranging from exposure to sexual predators to the alarming rise in teen suicides due, according to a report by NDTV.
Amidst the questioning, Zuckerberg tried to defend the impact of social media on the mental health of young people. He cited research claiming the boons of balance, stating that social media was not bad to their well-being if used in balance.
Prior to the US Senate Judiciary Committee, Meta, formerly known as Facebook and now come to include Facebook and Instagram both, has shared that a dedicated workforce of 40,000 employees is going to be actively engaged in strengthening online safety measures. Moreover, the tech giant stated that a large financial sum will be allotted to enhance safety measures on the platform. According to reports, both Meta and X unveiled a series of new measures aimed at proactively addressing concerns related to online safety.
Seated behind the five tech executives at the hearing were families who shared heart-breaking stories of their children self-harming or taking their own lives due to social media. At present, there is a proposal for a law in the US Congress which aims to make social media companies more accountable for the content posted on their platforms. The atmosphere was not one that would favour or grant leniency to the CEOs present.
A Republican Senator Ted Cruz had asked Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg after showing him how an Instagram prompt gave users a warning that they may see child sexual abuse and asks if they would like to see the ‘results anyway.’ “Mr Zuckerberg, what the hell were you thinking?”
Mark Zuckerberg replied saying that, “it’s often helpful to, rather than just blocking it, to help direct them towards something that could be helpful.”
Furthermore, in conversation with Republican Senator Josh Hawley, Zuckerberg was asked if he would like to apologise to the families sitting behind them at the hearing. He stood up and stated, “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.” But onlookers and activists are not happy with these words. According to Associated Press, a former senior staff member who testified to the US Congress in November 2023, named Arturo Béjar, told the BBC that Meta is trying to put the responsibility to give a safe environment to teenagers to the parents.
Al Jazeera reported that Zamaan Qureshi, co-chair of Design It For Us, a youth-led coalition advocating for safer social media told the publication that, “These companies have had opportunities to do this before. They failed to do that, so independent regulation needs to step in.”
Earlier last year, Sabrang India had reported how activists in India have criticised Facebook for not being interested to undertake measures to make the platform more hate free and safe for its users. Similarly, there have also been accusations against the social networking giant of being more “lenient” to excesses done by people associated with the party that forms India’s ruling government, the BJP.