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Meta CEO publicly apologizes to grieving parents during online safety hearing

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Posted at 8:03 PM, Jan 31, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-31 23:15:16-05

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The CEOs of five major social media companies were grilled by U.S. senators Wednesday during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the safety of children online.

The hearing comes amid a continued bipartisan push for new legal protections and responsibilities of social media platforms to prevent abusive or harmful material from being shared with children by their algorithms.

Packing the chamber to witness the hearing were parents of child victims of online harm and suicide, many holding pictures of their children as testimony began. At one of the most remarkable points of the hearing, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg turned to face the parents and publicly apologized at the request of Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri.

“It’s terrible. No one should have to go through the things that your families have suffered,” Zuckerberg said to the parents behind him. “And this is why we invest so much and are going to continue doing industry-leading efforts to make sure that no one has to go through the things your families have had to suffer.”

Lori Schott

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Among the parents in attendance was Lori Schott from Colorado. Denver7 spoke to her in late 2023 about the Kids Online Safety Act, a bill currently before Congress that would hold social media companies legally responsible if their algorithms boost content deemed harmful to minors. Schott lost her daughter, Annalee, to suicide in 2020 and later learned that Annalee’s social media accounts were showing her content that promoted self-harm and self-hate.

Schott listened to hours of testimony with Annalee’s picture in her lap. She said she has hope that real change could come for young people online, but she isn’t ready to accept Zuckerberg’s apology.

“Not when he wouldn’t accept the harms that are still happening to the children,” Schott said. “You could tell that I think everything he said was very scripted.”

Lawmakers not only placed blame on social media leaders during Wednesday’s hearing. They at times blamed Congress itself, too, for failing to act with legislation. There have been years of hearings and several proposed bills targeting online safety, but haven’t gained enough traction to pass.

“The tech industry alone is not to blame for the situation we’re in,” said Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois.

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While no concrete action emerged from Wednesday’s hearing, both Linda Yaccarino of X and Evan Spiegel of Snapchat said they support the Kids Online Safety Act. Zuckerberg didn’t commit to backing the bill in its current form but highlighted tools his company has built to protect kids.

Lori Schott said she’s not giving up and is hopeful that a combination of laws and lawsuits will protect other children the way she wishes her daughter was protected.

“To see that actually two of the CEOs are supporting the Kids Online Safety Act just felt like the dam is starting to break,” Schott said. “I just feel really positive about it in that respect. It’s going to be between litigation and legislation for us to get change.”

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