Cruz cited a 2023 report by the Wall Street Journal that found Instagram, which is owned and operated by Meta, allowed users the ability to view material that was flagged for containing child sexual abuse.
“You gave users two choices: ‘get resources’ or ‘see results anyway.’ Mr. Zuckerberg, what the hell were you thinking?” Cruz pressed.
Zuckerberg responded that “the basic science” behind that message “is that when people are searching for something that is problematic it’s often helpful to, rather than just blocking it, direct them toward something that could be helpful for getting them to get help.”
Cruz also accused TikTok, an outlet owned by the Chinese company “ByteDance,” of targeting American children to promote harmful content.
“If you look at what is on TikTok in China, you are promoting to kids science and math videos and educational videos and you limit the amount of time kids can be on TikTok. In the United States, you are promoting to kids self-harm videos and anti-Israel propaganda. Why is there such a dramatic difference?” Cruz questioned TikTok CEO Shou Chew.
Chew, who is a citizen of Singapore, denied Cruz’s allegations, saying “that is just not accurate” and that the version of TikTok available in China, called “Douyin,” “is a separate experience.”
The viral moment from the Senate hearing came when Zuckerberg, at the behest of Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, stood up and apologized to a crowd of parents in the gallery whose children either died by suicide or were harmed in various ways because of social media.
As photographers crowded around, Zuckerberg turned to the gallery, in which many parents were holding up pictures of their victimized children, and apologized.
“No one should have to go through the things that your families have suffered and this is why we have invested so much and are going to do new industry-leading efforts to make sure that no one has to go through the types of things that your families have had to suffer,” Zuckerberg said to the families.
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Both Democratic and Republican senators on the committee discussed several bipartisan policies and bills to combat child online exploitation.
Among the bills discussed during the hearing was the Kids Online Safety Act, which would require social media companies to take more stringent measures to prevent such things as online bullying and sexual harassment as well as increase privacy features for minors.
Also discussed was the Strengthening Transparency and Obligations to Protect Children Suffering from Abuse and Mistreatment (STOP CSAM) Act, which would make it easier for victims to sue tech companies for promoting or facilitating sexual exploitation.
Senators voiced support for repealing a portion of the Communications Decency Act, which protects social media companies from liability for harmful content on their platforms as well as for establishing a governmental oversight board to monitor social media companies’ development and implementation of online child protection policies.
Durbin said the current laws regarding social media have allowed “big tech to grow into the most profitable industry in the history of capitalism without fear of liability for unsafe practices.”