Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologized to families Wednesday as Republican Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley berated him over his alleged failure to address the harm and exploitation children were purportedly suffering on his social media platforms.
Attorneys general in 33 states filed a federal lawsuit in November accusing Meta of using manipulative algorithms and tools to addict young users, CBS News reported. According to the lawsuit, compulsive use of platforms like Instagram has negatively impacted the physical and mental health of pre-teens and teenagers. Hawley also cited testimony from Meta whistleblower Arturo Bejar, who found that young Instagram users were frequently exposed to unwanted sexual advances and to explicit content they did not seek out.
“My question is, who did you fire for this?” Hawley asked. “Who got fired because of that?”
“Senator, we studied all of this because it’s important and we want to improve our services,” Zuckerberg replied.
“Well, you just told me a second ago that you studied it, but that there’s no linkage. Who did you fire?” the senator pressed.
“Senator, I said you mischaracterized—” Zuckerberg began before Hawley cut him off.
“Thirty-seven percent of teenage girls between 13 and 15 were exposed to unwanted nudity in a week on Instagram. You knew about it. Who did you fire?” Hawley asked. (RELATED: Maryland School District Sues Social Media Companies, Alleges Their Platforms Are Contributing To Mental Health Crisis)
“I’m not gonna answer that,” Zuckerberg finally answered.
“Because you didn’t fire anybody, right?” Hawley said. “You didn’t take any significant action.”
“Senator, I don’t think it’s appropriate to talk about, like, any kind of HR decisions,” he said.
“It’s not appropriate? Do you know who’s sitting behind you?” Hawley shot back. “You’ve got families from across the nation whose children are either severely harmed or gone, and you don’t think it’s appropriate to talk about steps that you took? The fact that you didn’t fire a single person? Let me ask you this, let me ask you this: Have you compensated any of the victims?”
Zuckerberg said he does not believe he has compensated the girls Hawley referred to, arguing that his company’s responsibility is to create tools to “keep people safe.”
Hawley then asked the Meta CEO if he would “like to apologize for what you’ve done to these good people,” to which Zuckerberg responded by turning around to face them.
Zuckerberg then stood up to face the families sitting behind him and apologized for the “things that your families have suffered.” He also vowed to continue developing tools to prevent other users from having the same experiences.
Hawley then asked Zuckerberg why Meta “should not be sued” for the alleged harm users suffered and whether he would take “personal responsibility.”
“Senator, I view my job and the job of our company as building the best tools that we can to keep our communities safe—” Zuckerberg said.
“Well, you’re failing at that,” Hawley interjected.
“Well, Senator, we’re doing an industry leading effort—” he continued.
“Oh, nonsense,” Hawley interjected. “Your product is killing people. Will you personally commit to compensating the victims? You’re a billionaire. Will you commit to compensating the victims? Will you set up a compensation fund with your money?”
Zuckerberg replied that “these are complicated issues” and reiterated his commitment to building tools to protect users.
Hawley wrapped up his questioning of Zuckerberg by accusing him of having done “nothing” to protect or compensate those harmed by his platforms.