(San Francisco) “I’m sorry for everything you’ve experienced”: Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg apologized to the US Senate on Wednesday, questioned on the dangers of social networks for children and adolescents, during a hearing bringing together the leaders of Meta, X, TikTok, Discord and Snap.
Standing in front of the victims of the abuses of digital platforms and their families gathered in a room of the United States Congress, the boss of Meta recognized that “no one should experience the things that your families have suffered.”
This subject brings together elected politicians from both sides and numerous associations who accuse social networks of not sufficiently protecting young people, particularly against the risks of sexual exploitation or suicide.
Mark Zuckerberg (Meta), Linda Yaccarino (X, formerly Twitter), Shou Zi Chew (TikTok), Evan Spiegel (Snap) and Jason Citron (Discord) therefore faced a torrent of anger.
“Mr. Zuckerberg, you and the companies before us, I know you don’t think so, but you have blood on your hands. You have a product that is killing people,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told leaders.
Mark Zuckerberg expanded on the numerous measures taken by his group to protect young people, recalling having invested more than 20 billion dollars in security since 2016 and employing 40,000 people dedicated to moderation and security on the platforms.
“We are working hard to provide parents and adolescents with the support and tools necessary to reduce risks,” he assured during his opening speech.
“Keeping young people safe online has been a challenge since the advent of the internet and as criminals evolve their tactics, we must also evolve our defences,” he added.
“As a father of three young children, I know that the issues raised today are horrific and the stuff of nightmares for every parent,” said Mr. Chew, the TikTok executive. “I intend to invest more than $2 billion in security. This year alone we have 40,000 professionals working on this subject.”
X will for its part create a new branch dedicated to the moderation of the platform, which will recruit around a hundred people to primarily fight against this scourge, according to a press release published Friday.
“X is not the platform of choice for children and adolescents,” recalled Linda Yaccarino. “Children under 13 cannot open an account and less than 1% of US users are between 13 and 17. For them, the settings are private by default and they cannot allow being contacted by just anyone.”
As for Facebook, the senators referred to internal documents at the social networking giant which prove that Mr. Zuckerberg refused to strengthen the teams responsible for uncovering risks for adolescents. “The level of hypocrisy is staggering,” said Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal.
These documents are part of the complaint filed by around forty American states at the end of October. They believe that Meta harms the “mental and physical health of young people”, citing the risks of addiction, cyberbullying or eating disorders.
Under US law, digital platforms are largely protected from legal liability for content shared on their site.
Many elected officials want to put in place more rules to better regulate them, but new laws have been blocked by a Congress very divided on solutions and intense lobbying from large technology companies.
One of the existing proposed laws is the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), which aims to protect children from algorithms that may trigger anxiety or depression.
Another idea would be to require social media platforms to verify the age of network members and completely ban access to children under 13.
“I don’t think you’re going to solve the problem.” Congress will have to help you,” Sen. John Neely Kennedy told leaders.