Big tech CEOs head to the Senate to be held accountable for online child safety issues

"You have blood on your hands," Senator Lindsey Graham told Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta.

The CEOs of the big technology companies went to the Senate this Wednesday where they are being held accountable for the safety of the content offered by social media platforms to minors.

The session, titled "Big Tech and the Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis," featured statements by Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta; Linda Yacarrino, CEO of X; TikTok CEO Shou Chew; Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel; and Jason Citron, CEO of Discord. All of them responded to questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee, which blamed social media for many of the problems facing today's youth.

"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," began Senator Lindsey Graham, provoking applause from the people gathered in the hearing room.

All of them, the Senate clarified, were relatives of minors who died due to content posted on some of the social networks represented in the Senate. "You have a product that's killing people," Graham said before giving the floor to the rest of the American legislators.

President Dick Durbin agreed with Graham and said, in statements reported by ABC News, that online child exploitation was a "crisis in the United States." They held technology companies responsible:

Their design choices, their failures to adequately invest in trust and safety and their constant pursuit of engagement and profit over basic safety have all put our kids and grandkids at risk.

Big tech defends itself

The large technology companies clarified that they were aware of these dangers and that, since then, they have been taking measures to prevent future problems. For example, Yaccarino stated that X had opened an office in Texas dedicated solely to fighting child sexual abuse. TikTok announced, according to CNN, that it would allocate nearly $2 billion to its trust and safety department throughout this year.

Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel was more blunt. He supported the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) and said he feels "profound sorrow" to learn that his platform had been misrepresented to "cause harm":

I want to encourage broader industry support for legislation protecting children online. No legislation is perfect, but some rules of the road are better than none.

He also showed his deep regret for the situation that Meta platforms and CEO Mark Zuckerberg had unintentionally encouraged. He assured that both Facebook and Instagram had implemented a measure so that messages from strangers would not be visible in teenagers' accounts. Furthermore, he stated that both he and Meta take this problem "very seriously":

With so much of our lives spent on mobile devices and social media, it's important to look into the effects on teen mental health and well-being. I take this very seriously. 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 worse mental health outcomes.

Mark Zuckerberg and Evan Spiegel apologize to families

The two of them also spent a few minutes talking to the families. Mark Zuckerberg began by confronting them and apologized for all "the things that your families have suffered":

I’m sorry for everything you have all been through. No one should go through the things that your families have suffered and this is why we invest so much and we are going to continue doing industry-wide efforts to make sure no one has to go through the things your families have had to suffer.

Spieger apologized to all those families whose children died after buying drugs on Snapchat: "I'm so sorry that we have not been able to prevent these tragedies," he said before outlining the company's plan to prevent such tragedies from happening in the future.