‘Your Product Is Killing People’: Tech Leaders Denounced Over Child Safety Senators criticized the chief executives of Meta, TikTok, Snap, X and Discord for not doing enough to prevent child sexual abuse online, amid rising fears over how the platforms affect youths.


When Mark Zuckerberg turned at a Senate hearing to address the parents of children exploited, bullied, or driven to self-harm via social media, it felt like a time-worn convention had sprung back to life.

“I'm sorry for everything you've been through,” the Meta CEO said Wednesday. “No one should go through what you and your families have suffered.” Then he returned to corporate mode, noting Meta's continued investments in “industry-wide” efforts to protect children.

Zuckerberg has accumulated a long history of public apologies, often issued in the wake of a crisis or when Facebook users rose up against unannounced — and frequently unappreciated — changes in its service. It's a history that stands in sharp contrast to most of his peers in technology, who generally prefer not to speak publicly outside of carefully stage-managed product presentations. But it's also true that Facebook has simply had a lot to apologize for.

Whether or not the public always buys his apologies, there's little doubt that Zuckerberg finds it important to make them himself. Here's a quick, and by no means comprehensive, compendium of some notable Zuckerberg apologies and the circumstances that brought them on.


Facebook's first big privacy blow-up entailed a service called Beacon, which the platform launched in 2007. Intended to usher in a new age of “social” advertising, Beacon tracked user purchases and activities on other sites and then published them on friends' newsfeeds without requesting permission. After a huge backlash — well, it was huge at the time — Zuckerberg wrote in a blog post partially transcribed by TechCrunch that “we’ve made a lot of mistakes building this feature, but we’ve made even more with how we’ve handled them.” Beacon didn't last much longer.


In one of the earliest stories of Facebook's founding, a 19-year-old Mark Zuckerberg mocked the roughly 4,000 students who'd joined his nascent service, bragging to friends in text messages about the vast amount of personal information he'd collected thanks to the misplaced trust of his users. Zuckerberg called them “dumb” and punctuated the word with profanity. When Silicon Alley Insider, a predecessor to Business Insider, published those messages in 2010, Zuckerberg apologized during an interview for a New Yorker article, saying he “absolutely” regretted those remarks.


On Nov. 9, 2011, the Federal Trade Commission subjected Facebook to stricter privacy oversight after finding that the company arbitrarily made private information public without notice, failed to limit data sharing with apps when users activated restrictive settings, shared personal information with advertisers after saying it wouldn't, and more.

The same day, Zuckerberg posted a 1,418-word essay grandly titled “ Our Commitment to the Facebook Community ” that didn't mention the FTC action until a third of the way in and described blunders like Beacon as “a bunch of mistakes."


Zuckerberg's fascination with virtual reality long predated his decision to rename the company Facebook as Meta Platforms. On Oct. 9, 2017, he and a Facebook employee starred in a live VR tour of Puerto Rico in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Maria. The pair beamed themselves into prerecorded 3-D footage of the damage and recovery efforts; Zuckerberg described the you-are-there feeling as “one of the really magical things about virtual reality," especially given, as he said, that “it's a really tough place to get to now.”

He later expounded on Facebook's own recovery efforts, but the dissonant video drew so many complaints that Zuckerberg posted a brief apology in the video chat, explaining that his attempt to showcase Facebook's efforts at disaster recovery wasn't very clear and apologizing to anyone who was offended.


In 2018, news broke that Facebook had allowed apps to scrape large amounts of data from user accounts and those of their friends without oversight. While hundreds of apps were involved, attention soon focused on one that captured data from 87 million Facebook users and forwarded it to a U.K. political data-mining firm called Cambridge Analytica that had ties to then-President Trump's political strategist Steve Bannon. That data was reportedly used to target voters during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign that resulted in Trump's election.

Zuckerberg first apologized for the scandal on CNN, saying that Facebook has a “responsibility” to protect its users’ data and that if it fails, “we don’t deserve to have the opportunity to serve people.” He gave a version of that apology later that year in testimony before Congress, saying that “we didn't take a broad enough view of our responsibility” while also failing to crack down on fake news and hate speech, poor data privacy controls, and not adequately addressing foreign interference in the 2016 elections on Facebook.

U.S. senators on Wednesday grilled leaders of the biggest social media companies and said Congress must quickly pass legislation, as one lawmaker accused the companies of having "blood on their hands" for failing to protect children from escalating threats of sexual predation on their platforms.

The hearing marks the latest effort by lawmakers to address the concerns of parents and mental health experts that social media companies put profits over guardrails that would ensure their platforms do not harm children.
"Mr. Zuckerberg, you and the companies before us, I know you don't mean it to be so, but you have blood on your hands," said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, referring to Meta (META.O), opens new tab CEO Mark Zuckerberg. "You have a product that's killing people."
Zuckerberg testified along with X CEO Linda Yaccarino, Snap (SNAP.N), opened new tab for CEO Evan Spiegel, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, and Discord CEO Jason Citron.
Senator Dick Durbin, the Judiciary Committee's Democratic chairman, cited statistics from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children nonprofit group that showed skyrocketing growth in financial "sextortion," in which a predator tricks a minor into sending explicit photos and videos.
"This disturbing growth in child sexual exploitation is driven by one thing: changes in technology," Durbin said during the hearing.
As the hearing kicked off, the committee played a video in which children spoke about being victimized on social media.
"I was sexually exploited on Facebook," said one child in the video, who appeared in shadow.
In the hearing room, dozens of parents held pictures of their children who they said had been harmed due to social media. Some parents jeered Zuckerberg, whose company owns Facebook and Instagram, during his opening statement and shouted comments at other points during the hearing.
At one point, Senator Josh Hawley challenged Zuckerberg to apologize to them directly, and several people held the children's photos aloft again as Zuckerberg turned around to address them.
Zuckerberg expressed regret about what they had experienced and pledged to work to prevent it from happening to others, but stopped short of taking responsibility for facilitating the abuse, as Hawley suggested he should.
In a tense exchange, the committee displayed copies of internal emails showing Zuckerberg rejecting a request by Meta's top policy executive to hire between 45 and 84 engineers to work on safety improvements.
X's Yaccarino said the company supported the STOP CSAM Act, legislation introduced by Durbin that seeks to hold tech companies accountable for child sexual abuse material and would allow victims to sue tech platforms and app stores.
The bill is one of several aimed at addressing child safety. None have become law.
X, formerly Twitter, has come under heavy criticism since Elon Musk bought the service and loosened moderation policies. This week, it blocked searches for pop singer Taylor Swift after fake sexually explicit images of her spread on the platform.
Wednesday also marked the first appearance by TikTok CEO Chew before U.S. lawmakers since March, when the Chinese-owned short video app company faced harsh questions, including some suggesting the app was damaging children's mental health.
Chew disclosed more than 170 million Americans used TikTok monthly, 20 million more than the company said last year.
Under questioning by Graham, he said TikTok would spend more than $2 billion on trust and safety efforts, but declined to say how the figure compared to the company's overall revenue.
Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican, pressed Zuckerberg about warning screens on Instagram that alerted users an image might show child sexual abuse, but still allowed them to see the image.
"Mr. Zuckerberg, what the hell were you thinking?" Cruz said.
Zuckerberg responded that it can be helpful to redirect users to resources rather than blocking content, adding the company would follow up with more information about the notice.
Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar questioned what she said was inaction in the tech industry, comparing it to the response shown when a panel blew out of a Boeing plane earlier this month.
"When a Boeing plane lost a door in flight several weeks ago, nobody questioned the decision to ground a fleet... So why aren't we taking the same type of decisive action on the danger of these platforms when we know these kids are dying?" Klobuchar said.

Reporting by David Shepardson and Makini Brice; additional reporting by Sheila Dang and Katie Paul; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Rosalba O'Brien

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