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Social media leaders receive heavy criticism over child exploitation in congressional testimony

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologies to families in attendance of a Senate hearing Jan. 31 on the the role of social media companies and child exploitation.

WASHINGTON D.C. (BP) — In a dramatic moment, Mark Zuckerberg turned during a Senate hearing today and apologized to families whose children have been victims of online sexual exploitation through platforms such as his.

The moment came as the Meta CEO was grilled by Josh Hawley (R-MO) at the hearing that included chief executives from TikTok, Snap, Discord and X (formerly Twitter).

Snap CEO Evan Spiegel, during questioning by Laphonza Butler (D-CA) also apologized to families of children who died after purchasing drugs over Snapchat.

“I’m so sorry that we have not been able to prevent these tragedies,” said Spiegel.

Social media is the primary determiner for a mental health crisis among young people, said a Youth Risk Behavior study last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“I have been watching the research on teenage mental health, especially women, for some time,” IMB missionary and longtime New Orleans Seminary counseling professor Kathy Steele told BP the at time.

“I’m not surprised by this.”

At one point in the hearing Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) referenced a Meta memo that placed the company’s lifetime value of a young user at $270.

“How could you possibly even have that thought? It is astounding to me,” said Blackburn, who then invited those in attendance to stand who wore T-shirts saying, “I am worth more than $270.”

“How can you ensure that Instagram creators – your product, your program – does not facilitate illegal activities when you failed to remove content pertaining to the sale of minors?” she asked. “It is happening once every two minutes in this country.”

Zuckerberg, who has three daughters with his wife Priscilla, responded that while there are tools for identifying such content, “That doesn’t mean we’re perfect” and his company would continue to work for improvement.

It failed to convince Blackburn, who chided the CEO for failure to work with lawmakers.

“Mr. Zuckerberg … it appears there is a lot that is slipping through. It appears that you’re trying to be the premier sex trafficking site,” which brought protests from Zuckerberg.

“We’ve been working on this stuff for a decade,” Blackburn said. “You have an army of lawyers and lobbyists that have fought us on this every step of the way … to actually fight our bipartisan legislation to keep kids safe online.”

Texas senator Ted Cruz showed a warning screen that appears for those who may be searching for “child abuse material” that gives the options of “Get resources” or “See results anyway.”

“I understand ‘Get resources,’” said Cruz, “but in what sane universe is there a link for ‘See results anyway’?”

South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham called social media companies as they currently operate “dangerous products” that present a threat to democracy itself and must be “reined in.”

“Mr. Zuckerberg,” he said, “you and the companies before us … have blood on your hands.”