us senators grill mark zuckerberg and other tech ceos on online child safety
Last updated on February 2nd, 2024 at 06:18 am
January 31 offered US lawmakers a rare opportunity to question tech bosses. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew and the bosses of Snap, X (previously called Twitter) and Discord were questioned in a fiery US Senate hearing for almost four hours.
Zuckerberg and Chew voluntarily agreed to testify, but the heads of the other three prominent firms initially refused and were sent government-issued subpoenas. Behind the entrepreneurs sat families whose children had self-harmed because of social media content.
Shou Zi Chew questioned over Chinese government
The Chief Executive of Meta – controlling Instagram and Facebook – apologised to the families during the Senate hearing, saying: “I’m sorry for everything you have all gone through, it’s terrible … No one should have to go through the things that your families have suffered.”
TikTok – owned by Chinese company ByteDance – CEO Chew was asked if his firm shared US users’ information with the Chinese government, which he rejected. Upon being asked if he had ever belonged to the Chinese Communist Party, he said: “I’m Singaporean. No.”
He added that as a father of three young children he knew the issues being discussed were “the nightmare of every parent”, and admitted that his own children did not use TikTok due to Singapore’s rules barring under-13s from creating accounts.
Zuckerberg came under the most scrutiny
Republican Senator Ted Cruz asked, “Mr Zuckerberg, what the hell were you thinking?”, as he highlighted an Instagram prompt that warns users they may be about the see child sexual abuse material, but asks if they would like to “see the results anyway”.
The tech boss tried to explain that the “basic science behind that” is “it is often helpful to, rather than just blocking it, to help direct them towards something that could be helpful.” The 39-year-old also promised to “personally look into it”.
It was Zuckerberg who came under the most scrutiny. Nonetheless, prior to the fiery Senate hearing, Meta had announced new safety measures, such as minors would, by default, be unable to receive messages from strangers on Instagram and Messenger.
Moderating content on social media
The Senators sought to know what the firms are doing to protect children online – as legislation aimed at holding social media companies to account for material posted on their platforms is currently going through Congress.
The firms also revealed how many people they employed to moderate content on their platforms. Meta and TikTok said they had 40,000 moderators each, Snap said it had 3,200, X had 2,000 and Discord – a messaging platform – had “hundreds” of moderators.