Mark Zuckerberg

Tech CEOs say there is ‘blood on your hands’ during a US Senate hearing on child safety

WASHINGTON: U.S. senators on Wednesday questioned executives from the largest social media companies and said Congress must quickly pass legislation, as one lawmaker accused the companies of having “blood on their hands” for failing to protect children’s privacy from the growing threat of sexual exploitation on their platforms.

The hearing represents the latest attempt by lawmakers to address concerns from parents and mental health experts that social media companies are putting profit over safety, which would ensure their platforms do not harm children.

“Mr. Zuckerberg, you and the companies before us—I know you don’t mean it, but you have blood on your hands,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said, referring to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “You have a product that kills people.”

Zuckerberg testified alongside X CEO Linda Yaccarino, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, and Discord CEO Jason Citron.

Sen. Dick Durbin, Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee, cited statistics from the nonprofit National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that show a rapid increase in financial “sextortion,” in which a predator entices a minor to send explicit photos and videos.

“This disturbing increase in child sexual exploitation is driven by one thing: technological change,” Durbin said during the hearing.

At the beginning of the hearing, the committee broadcast a video of children talking on social networks about their victim status.

“I was sexually exploited on Facebook,” said a child who appeared in the shadows in the video.

In the courtroom, dozens of parents held up photos of their children, whom they said had been hurt by social media. Some parents mocked Zuckerberg, whose companies include Facebook and Instagram, during his opening statement and shouted comments elsewhere during the hearing.

At one point, Senator Josh Hawley asked Zuckerberg to apologize directly to them, and several people again held up photos of the children as Zuckerberg turned to address them.

Zuckerberg expressed regret for what they experienced and promised to work to prevent it from happening to others, but took no responsibility for facilitating the abuse, as Hawley had suggested.

During a tense exchange, the committee showed copies of internal emails showing that Zuckerberg had rejected a request from Meta’s top executives to hire between 45 and 84 engineers to work on security improvements.

This bill is just one of many aimed at keeping children safe. Nothing became law.

X, formerly Twitter, has been the subject of intense criticism since Elon Musk bought the service and relaxed its moderation guidelines. This week, searches for pop singer Taylor Swift were blocked after fake, sexually explicit images of her were shared on the platform.

Wednesday also marked TikTok CEO Chew’s first appearance before U.S. lawmakers since March, when the Chinese short-video app company faced tough questions, with some suggesting the app would harm children with mental health.

Chew revealed that more than 170 million Americans use TikTok every month, 20 million more than the company reported last year.

When asked, Graham said TikTok would spend more than $2 billion on trust and safety efforts, but declined to say how that figure compares to the company’s total revenue.

Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican, urged Zuckerberg to implement warning screens on Instagram that warned users that an image might depict child sexual abuse but still allowed them to see the image.

“Mr. Zuckerberg, what were you thinking?” Cruz asked.

Zuckerberg responded that directing users to resources instead of blocking content could be helpful, adding that the company will release more information about the advisory.

Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar questioned the tech industry’s inaction, comparing it to the response when a panel on a Boeing plane exploded earlier this month.

“When a Boeing plane lost a door in flight a few weeks ago, no one questioned the decision to ground a fleet… So why not take the same decisive action in light of the danger this brings? Do you know it’s killing these kids?'” Klobuchar said.