During a tension-filled Senate hearing, Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) confronted Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, leading to a rare standing public apology from the tech mogul for the negative impact of his company’s products on teenagers. The exchange was marked by a round of applause for Hawley’s rigorous questioning as well.
On Wednesday, the chief executives from five leading social media firms attended a Senate hearing that drew significant attention for its focus on the online risks to children and teenagers.
The hearing, “Big Tech and the Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis,” also saw appearances from X’s Linda Yaccarino, TikTok’s Shou Chew, Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel, and Discord’s Jason Citron before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Hawley opened his line of questioning with a critique of Facebook’s internal research findings, which indicated a significant adverse effect on the mental health of teenage girls. “Your own study says that you make life worse for one in three teenage girls. You increase anxiety and depression,” Hawley said challenging Zuckerberg.
Zuckerberg attempted to deflect, suggesting alternative interpretations of the data, but Hawley was relentless. The discussion then veered into the realm of corporate accountability, with Hawley questioning why, despite the known harms, no significant action had been taken by Facebook to mitigate these effects or to compensate those affected.
“Have you compensated any of the victims? These girls, have you compensated them?” Hawley asked.
“I don’t believe so,” Zuckerberg hesitantly replied.
The hearing has been among multiple sessions held over the past year, amid growing calls for federal regulators to intensify efforts to make tech companies more accountable for the safety of children online.
Hawley’s interrogation grew more intense as he asked Zuckerberg directly if he would apologize to the victims and families affected by Facebook’s platforms, some of whom were present during the hearing. “Would you like to apologize to the victims who have been harmed by your products? Show them the pictures. Would you like to apologize for what you’ve done,” Hawley demanded, pushing Zuckerberg into a corner.
“I’m really sorry. It’s terrible. No one should have to go through the things that your families have suffered,” Zuckerberg finally conceded, offering an apology as he stood up and acknowledged the pain caused by his company’s products. He detailed Facebook’s investment in safety tools and AI technology designed to prevent such issues in the future, yet this did not quell the senator’s demand for personal and corporate accountability.
“Why, Mr. Zuckerberg, why should your company not be sued for this? Why is it that you can claim, you hide behind a liability shield, you can’t be held accountable? Shouldn’t you be held accountable personally? Will you take personal responsibility?” Hawley pressed further, questioning the adequacy of Facebook’s efforts and the ethical responsibility of its CEO.
The CEOs stressed the measures their companies have implemented to mitigate these issues. For instance, Meta has unveiled initiatives to conceal content considered unsuitable for teenagers, with Zuckerberg showing the development of 30 tools designed to safeguard children and assist parents in managing their online experiences.