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In the middle of a tense Senate Wednesday on the dangers of social media, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg stood, turned around and faced families who have accused his platforms, Facebook and Instagram, of harming their children.  
“I’m sorry for everything you have all been through,” Zuckerberg said. “No one should go through the things that your families have suffered, and this is why we invest so much and we are going to continue doing industry-leading efforts to make sure no one has to go through the things your families have had to suffer.”
The rare public apology comes amid scathing criticism from lawmakers and child advocates who say the industry for years has failed to protect its most vulnerable users from abuse and exploitation.
In bipartisan unison throughout the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Congress chastised the leaders of some of the nation’s top social media companies and called on them to take immediate steps to protect children and teens online.
“I use it, we all use it, there’s an upside to everything here. But the dark side hasn’t been dealt with,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said. “It’s now time to deal with the dark side because people have taken your idea, and they’ve turned it into a nightmare for the American people.” 
Concerns about the harmful effects of social media use on America’s youth have reached a crescendo in recent months. A public health advisory from the surgeon general last year noted social media use presents “a profound risk of harm” for kids’ and teens’ mental health and called for “immediate action” from tech companies. 
“We want action and legal accountability, not platitudes, from these CEOs,” said Brandy and Toney Roberts in a statement from the American Association for Justice. The couple filed a lawsuit against Meta after their 14-year-old daughter, Englyn, died by suicide. They say she was copying a hanging video sent to her on Instagram.
“An empty apology is cold comfort when we go home every night to Englyn’s empty bedroom,” the Roberts said.
Lawmakers used the hearing to push for a package of bills meant “to help stop the exploitation of kids online,” including the STOP CSAM Act, which would allow victims of child exploitation to sue tech platforms.
Zuckerberg and other tech leaders argued that they have stepped up with protective measures that insulate children and teens on their platforms. Critics sharply disagreed.
“I think Congress is going to have to help you,” Sen. John Kennedy, R-LA, said.I think the reforms you’re talking about, to some extent, are going to be like putting paint on rotten wood.”
And, even as they condemned social media companies, lawmakers acknowledged that they, too, have been part of the problem. Congress has passed just one kids’ safety law in the past decade.
Witnesses include:
This was Zuckerberg’s eighth time testifying before Congress. It was a first for Yaccarino, Spiegel and Citron, who were subpoenaed to appear. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-IL, said Citron “only accepted services of this subpoena after U.S. Marshals were sent to Discord’s headquarters at taxpayer expense.”
The tech company leaders said they were open to working with lawmakers to address their concerns.
“I sincerely hope today is the beginning of an ongoing dialogue that results in real improvements in online safety,” Citron said.
Mark Zuckerberg to victims’ families:‘I’m sorry for everything you’ve been through’
Zuckerberg turned down requests to expand child safety team: Lawmakers on Wednesday released internal documents from Meta that showed Zuckerberg rejected 2021 requests to add dozens of employees to focus on children’s well-being and safety.   
“(This) is the reason why we can no longer trust Meta, and, frankly, any of the other social media to in fact grade their own homework,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-CT. 
Zuckerberg addressed the families of victims: Sen. Josh Hawley, R-MO, urged Zuckerberg to apologize directly to the families of victims and suggested the billionaire establish a victim compensation fund. Zuckerberg would not commit to the idea during the hearing. 
TikTok grilled for ties to China: Lawmakers raised concerns that TikTok, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, is sharing user data with the Chinese government. CEO Chew argued that the company has spent billions on a project aimed at protecting American user data, and said the company has “not been asked for any data by the Chinese government and we have never provided it.”
Lawmakers highlight unity across party lines: The welfare of children on social media is the rare issue that transcends partisan politics. Sen. Graham highlighted how both Democrats and Republicans agreed that tech companies need more regulatory oversight.
“We’ve found common ground here that just is astonishing,” he said.
Boeing comparisons: Both Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-MN, and Sen. Chris Coons, D-DE, contrasted regulations in the tech and airline industries, highlighting the quick response after a Boeing plane lost a panel midair earlier this month.
“Nobody questioned the decision to ground a fleet of over 700 planes. So why aren’t we taking the same type of decisive action on the danger of these platforms when we know these kids are dying?” Klobuchar asked.
The social media platform heads balked when asked if they support the five bills the committee is pushing as written, but say they have already taken steps to protect young users.
Yaccarino, head of X, said the company is building a content moderation center in Austin, Texas. She also noted that the company supports the STOP CSAM Act. TikTok CEO Chew highlighted safety measures, like disabling direct messaging for accounts owned by people under 16 and automatically making their accounts private. 
Zuckerberg’s written testimony notes that Meta has introduced various features to help parents and teens, including controls that let parents set limits on when and how long their children can use Meta’s services − settings that hide potentially sensitive content and a nudge tool that reminds teens when they’ve been using Instagram for too long or too late into the night. 
“We’re committed to protecting young people from abuse on our services, but this is an ongoing challenge,” Zuckerberg says in his written testimony.
Snap, the company behind instant messaging app Snapchat, and X also came out in support of the Kids Online Safety Act, which could lead to more lawsuits against tech companies that recommend harmful material to young users. (Some critics are concerned that it could also lead to the censorship of transgender content online.)
“Just like with all technology and tools, there are people who exploit and abuse our platforms for immoral and illegal purposes,” Discord CEO Citron said. “All of us here on the panel today and throughout the tech industry, have a solemn and urgent responsibility to ensure that everyone who uses our platforms is protected from these criminals, both online and off.”
Lawmakers noted that a number of these safety measures – including X’s new content moderation center and additional protections for teens on Meta’s platforms – were added in the weeks leading up to the senate hearing.
Critics say social media platforms’ tools don’t go far enough, and hope the hearing will push lawmakers to take action. Politico reports that Congress has passed just one kids’ safety law in the past decade.
“I’m tired of talking. I’m tired of having discussions,” Graham said. “Open up the courthouse door. Until you do that, nothing will change.”

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