Republican Sen. Josh Hawley forced Meta CEO and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to publicly apologize to the families of children victimized by his company’s addictive algorithms and practices.
During opening remarks to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Zuckerberg, who is on the record as encouraging his kids to play outside instead of use screens, falsely claimed social media doesn’t damage many kids’ happiness and health.
“Mental health is a complex issue, and the existing body of scientific work has not shown a causal link between using social media and young people having more mental health outcomes,” Zuckerberg said.
When Hawley pressed Zuckerberg about the statement later in the hearing, Zuckerberg doubled down.
“What I said is I think it’s important to look at the science. I know it’s — people widely talk about this as if that is something that’s already been proven and I think that the bulk of the scientific evidence does not support that,” Zuckerberg replied.
Hawley spent the next five minutes citing Meta-funded studies that find the opposite. One internal research project conducted by Meta in 2021 determined one in three teenage girls struggling with body image “reported that using Instagram made them feel worse.”
“Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression. This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups,” a slide summarizing the study noted.
A Wall Street Journal analysis of the study warned that Meta researchers “repeatedly” found that Instagram “is harmful for a sizable percentage of [young users], most notably teenage girls” but did nothing about it.
Zuckerberg tried to dispute his own company’s findings, but Hawley did not let his excuses slide.
“You’re here testifying to us in public that there’s no link. You’ve been doing this for years. For years, you’ve been coming in public and testifying under oath that there’s absolutely no link, your product is wonderful, the science is nascent, full speed ahead. While internally, you know full well your product is a disaster for teenagers,” Hawley countered, which elicited a round of applause from viewers.
“That’s not true,” Zuckerberg replied.
Hawley didn’t let Zuckerberg’s protests stop him.
“That’s not a question. Those are facts, Mr. Zuckerberg,” Hawley said, before continuing to list evidence that Meta knows its products endanger their users.
He listed several statistics uncovered by former Facebook executive Arturo Béjar. Béjar testified to a Senate subcommittee last year that high percentages of teen girls were exposed to nudity, unwanted sexual advances, and self-harm content within the last seven days on Meta social media platforms.
“I know you’re familiar with these stats because he sent you an email where he lined it all out. I mean, we’ve got a copy of it right here. My question is, who did you fire for this and who got fired because of that?” Hawley asked.
Zuckerberg danced around the question several times before Hawley answered it for him.
“You didn’t fire anybody, right? You didn’t take any significant actions,” Hawley said.
When Zuckerberg tried to deflect because he didn’t think it was “appropriate” to talk about his hiring and firing decisions, Hawley did not hold back.
“You know who’s sitting behind you? You’ve got families from across the nation whose children are either severely harmed or gone. And you don’t think it’s appropriate to talk about steps that you took? The fact that you didn’t fire somebody?” Hawley asked. “Let me ask you this. Have you compensated any of the victims?”
Zuckerberg confirmed he has not.
“Don’t you think they deserve some compensation for what your platform has done? Help with counseling services help with dealing with the issues that your service has caused?” Hawley pressed, noting that profit drove Meta’s decisions.
As Zuckerberg fumbled for a response, Hawley demanded he turn towards the gallery of onlookers and apologize to the families of children Big Tech has helped harm.
“There’s families of victims here today. Have you apologized to the victims? Would you like to do so now? Well, they’re here. You’re on national television,” Hawley said. “Would you like now to apologize to the victims who have been harmed, but you’re not showing the pictures? Would you like to apologize for what you’ve done to these good people?”
Zuckerberg stood, turned away from his mic, and told the parents holding pictures of their children’s faces that he understood “your families have suffered.”