Sexual predators. Addictive features. Self-harm and eating disorders. Unrealistic standards of beauty. Harassment. These are just some of the problems young people face on social media, and children’s advocates and lawmakers say companies aren’t doing enough to protect them.
That is why the CEOs of platforms such as Meta, TikTok, X appeared before the US Congress on Wednesday at a time when concern is growing about the harmful effects of social networks on the health of young people.
The hearing began with recorded testimony from children and parents who said they or their children had been exploited on social media.
“They are responsible for many of the dangers our children face online,” Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin, who chairs the committee, said in his opening remarks. “Their relentless pursuit of presence and profit over basic security puts our children and grandchildren at risk.”
While Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg is already a veteran of congressional interpellations since the first time in 2018 due to the Cambridge Analytica controversy, this is the second time for TikTok boss Shou Zi Chew and the first for Linda Yaccarino, CEO of X Snap CEO Evan Spiegel and Discord CEO Jason Citron are also scheduled to appear before the Senate Legal Affairs Committee.
“We understand that they are companies and they need to make money. But when you are faced with important security and privacy decisions, profit is not the first factor that these companies consider,” said Zamaan Qureshi, co-president of Design It For Us, a coalition led by young people advocating for more steps. in social networks. independent regulation.”
Meta is likely to be a central focus of the hearings, as the Menlo Park, California-based company is being sued by several states that accuse it of intentionally and knowingly engineering features of Instagram and Facebook in addicted children.
Internal emails between Meta executives released by Senator Richard Blumenthal’s office show Nick Clegg, president of global affairs, and other leaders asking Zuckerberg to hire more staff to ” strengthen our position of well-being across the company” as it raises concerns about the effects of social media on young people’s mental health.
“From a policy point of view, this task has become more urgent in recent months. Politicians in the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union and Australia have publicly and privately raised concerns about the impact of our youth mental health product,” Clegg wrote in an August 2021 email.
He added that the company is “limited” by the lack of investment in that area, “which means that we cannot make changes and changes in the step necessary to meet the concerns of public officials.” Among the reasons for concern, the email says, is “problematic use” of apps, such as overuse, bullying, harassment and suicidal tendencies.
Emails released by Blumenthal’s office did not appear to contain any response from Zuckerberg. In September 2021, The Wall Street Journal published “The Facebook Files,” a series of special reports based on internal documents revealed by an employee, Frances Haugen, who later spoke before the committee on Senate.