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2 Feb, 2024 02:43

Zuckerberg apologizes to families hurt by social media

US lawmakers pressed the tech mogul to answer for the damage inflicted to young people caused by his platforms
Zuckerberg apologizes to families hurt by social media

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has offered an apology to victims and relatives of people harmed by his social media sites, including teens who were sexually abused online and those who took their own lives following digital bullying.

During a contentious Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday, the Facebook founder was grilled about the negative effects his products have on children and teenagers, with families and victims sharing concerns on a wide range of issues, including sexual predators, mental health, and the addictive nature of social media.

Following their testimony, Republican Senator Josh Hawley asked the CEO whether he had personally compensated any of the families for what they endured, with Zuckerberg responding “I don’t think so.”

Asked if he would like to apologize to the victims, Zuckerberg took the opportunity, turning to address the parents and teens in attendance.

“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 his company would continue to invest in “industry-wide efforts” to protect young people. He pointed to Meta’s parental control tools, which can limit the content children see online.

Lawmakers from both parties took turns pressing Zuckerberg, with the Judiciary Committee’s Democratic chair, Senator Dick Durbin, declaring in his opening remarks that the Meta CEO and some social media sites are “responsible for many of the dangers our children face online.”

Hawley also went on to accuse Zuckerberg’s sites of “killing people,” and in a letter published on Thursday, he urged the chief executive to “immediately create a fund endowed by your own personal wealth for the purpose of compensating those who have been victimized by your platforms.”

Meta’s platforms – which include Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp – have repeatedly come under fire for failing to protect minors, with legal documents obtained by The Guardian, TechCrunch, and other outlets suggesting that around 100,000 underage users face sexual harassment on the former two sites on a daily basis.

The legal filings stemmed from a lawsuit launched by the state of New Mexico against Meta, which accused the company of allowing Facebook and Instagram to devolve into “a marketplace for predators in search of children upon whom to prey.” Some child exploitation material is “over ten times more prevalent on Facebook and Instagram than it is on Pornhub and OnlyFans,” the suit claimed. 

Though Meta insisted it had spent “over a decade working on these issues,” the recently released documents highlight cases in which the company appears to have deliberately limited child safety features even while attempting to draw in more young users.