Updated Jan 31, 2024 - Technology

"Blood on your hands": Senators grill tech CEOs on child social media exploitation

A photo of a Congressional hearing where Mark Zuckerberg stands and turns behind him to speak. Other CEOs are seen in the photo as well as photographers.

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks directly to audience members of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the dangers of child sexual exploitation on social media. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

U.S. senators during a Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday admonished the CEOs of large tech and social media companies including Meta and TikTok for harming young users.

Why it matters: Social media giants have been under pressure to address concerns about what kids are seeing on their platforms, as well as the risks associated with adolescent social media usage.

  • The hearing was focused on digital safety, including child sexual exploitation, as artificial intelligence compounds what lawmakers have called an urgent issue.
  • "You have blood on your hands," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the committee's ranking member, told the tech leaders during his opening remarks.
  • He added: "You have a product that's killing people."

Details: Meta's Mark Zuckerberg, X's Linda Yaccarino, Snap's Evan Spiegel, TikTok's Shou Zi Chew and Discord's Jason Citron were testifying on their respective platforms' efforts to protect young people.

The big picture: Crafting stricter social media regulation has been an area of bipartisan collaboration in Congress.

  • "We found common ground here that just is astonishing," Graham said Wednesday.

The latest: In an exchange with Zuckerberg, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) asked: "Do you know who's sitting behind you?"

  • "You've got families from across the nation whose children are either severely harmed or gone," Hawley said, as parents in the room stood and held up portraits of their kids.
  • Hawley asked whether he would apologize and compensate the parents with his own money.
  • "You are on national television," Hawley said.

Zuckerberg spoke to the audience and apologized for what the families went have suffered, the New York Times reported. His statement wasn't picked up by his microphone.

Our thought bubble, from Axios' Ashley Gold and Maria Curi: So often, CEOs like Zuckerberg, get to hide behind company statements and heavily lawyered positions. It was a sobering moment for Zuckerberg but ultimately a grandstanding moment for senators.

  • This is not Zuckerberg's first rodeo and it shows. Wednesday marks Zuckerberg's eighth time on Capitol Hill since he first testified in 2018.

What they're saying: The social media companies have hurt children by turning a blind eye to kids joining the platforms and using algorithms that push harmful content, said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

  • She contrasted tech companies' responses to the grounding of a fleet of Boeing airplanes following an in-flight emergency.
  • "Why aren't we taking the same type of decisive action on the danger of these platforms when we know these kids are dying?" she said.

Editor's note: This story was updated with additional background and context. Axios' Maria Curi contributed to this report.

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