Sexual predators. Addictive features. Suicide and eating disorders. Unrealistic beauty standards. Bullying. These are just some of the issues young people are dealing with on social media — and children’s advocates and lawmakers say companies are not doing enough to protect them.
Yesterday [Macau time], the CEOs of Meta, TikTok, X and other social media companies went before the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify at a time when lawmakers and parents are growing increasingly concerned about the effects of social media on young people’s lives.
The hearing began with recorded testimony from kids and parents who said they or their children were exploited on social media. Throughout the hourslong event, parents who lost children to suicide silently held up pictures of their dead kids.
“They’re responsible for many of the dangers our children face online,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, who chairs the committee, said in opening remarks. “Their design choices, their failures to adequately invest in trust and safety, their constant pursuit of engagement and profit over basic safety have all put our kids and grandkids at risk.”
In a heated question and answer session with Mark Zuckerberg, Republican Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley asked the Meta CEO if he has personally compensated any of the victims and their families for what they have been through.
“I don’t think so,” Zuckerberg replied.
“There’s families of victims here,” Hawley said. “Would you like to apologize to them?”
Zuckerberg stood, turned away from his microphone and the senators, and directly addressed the parents in the gallery.
“I’m sorry for everything you have all been through. No one should go through the things that your families have suffered,” he said, adding that Meta continues to invest and work on “industrywide efforts” to protect children.
But time and time again, children’s advocates and parents have stressed that none of the companies are doing enough.
One of the parents who attended the hearing was Neveen Radwan, whose teenage daughter got sucked in to a “black hole of dangerous content” on TikTok and Instagram after she started looking at videos on healthy eating and exercise at the onset of the COVID lockdowns. She developed anorexia within a few months and nearly died, Radwan recalled.
“Nothing that was said today was different than what we expected,” Radwan said. “It was a lot of promises and a lot of, quite honestly, a lot of talk without them really saying anything. The apology that he made, while it was appreciated, it was a little bit too little, too late, of course.”
But Radwan, whose daughter is now 19 and in college, said she felt a “significant shift” in the energy as she sat through the hearing, listening to the senators grill the social media CEOs in tense exchanges.
“The energy in the room was, very, very palpable. Just by our presence there, I think it was very noticeable how our presence was affecting the senators,” she said.
Hawley continued to press Zuckerberg, asking if he’d take personal responsibility for the harms his company has caused. Zuckerberg stayed on message and repeated that Meta’s job is to “build industry-leading tools” and empower parents.
“To make money,” Hawley cut in.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham, the top Republican on the Judiciary panel, echoed Durbin’s sentiments and said he’s prepared to work with Democrats to solve the issue.
“After years of working on this issue with you and others, I’ve come to conclude the following: Social media companies as they’re currently designed and operate are dangerous products,” Graham said. MDT/AP