Sunday, March 3, 2024

Hawley Forces Zuckerberg to Apologize to Crowd During Heated Hearing on Child Exploitation

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They’re common names, especially in homes with kids, and the heads of those social media companies including TikTok and Facebook were grilled on Capitol Hill. The explosive hearing Wednesday focused on the sexual exploitation of children through social media and how their companies were responding.

The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing was about as bipartisan as it gets as the CEOs faced tough questions from both sides of the aisle.

Victims and advocates for children surrounded the CEOs as they faced lawmakers. Discord, X, and Snap were all represented along with TikTok and Facebook. Family members held up pictures of their loved ones who were harmed in incidents involving social media as the CEOs addressed members of Congress.

“Mr. Zuckerberg, you and the companies before us, I know you don’t mean it to be so but you have blood on your hands. You have a product that’s killing people,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to applause from the packed hearing room.

The focus of the grilling centered around social media content containing sexual exploitation of children across various platforms. The hearing also veered into how those apps police, or in many cases don’t police content that could cause a child to harm themselves.

“We deploy a wide array of techniques that work across every surface on Discord. We recently launched something called ‘Teen Safety Assist’ and works everywhere and it’s on by default for teen users. It kind of acts like a buddy that lets them know if they’re in a situation or talking with someone that may be inappropriate so they can report that to us and block that use,” Discord CEO Jason Citron told the Senate committee.

“Mr. Citron if that were working we wouldn’t be here today,” replied committee chair Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL).

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Rhode Island Democrat Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse gave one of the more direct jabs to the social media bosses. “Your platforms really suck at policing themselves,” he told them.

In maybe the most memorable moment of the hearing, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) put Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg on the spot and compelled him to face the families in the audience.

“So you didn’t take any action. You didn’t take any action. You didn’t fire anybody. You haven’t compensated a single victim. Let me ask you this, there’s families of victims here today. Would you like to apologize to the victims? Would you like to do so now? They’re here. You’re on national television. Would you like now to apologize to the victims who’ve been harmed by your product? Show him the pictures. Would you like now to apologize for what you’ve done to these good people,” Hawley said.

Zuckerberg turned away from the senators and faced the crowd to offer an apology.

“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 “industry-wide efforts” to protect children.

Multiple bills have been introduced aimed at curbing what’s called CSAM or “Child Sexual Abuse Material” with some of them centered around litigation. The “Stop CSAM Act” would allow victims to sue social media companies, and “The SHIELD Act” would allow the DOJ to more easily go after people online who share explicit material.

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