"Too little, too late": Mark Zuckerberg's insufficient apologies for the role of networks in the sexual exploitation of minors

Parents of victims, legislators and attorneys general demand that the CEOs' of big tech take measures to guarantee the safety of children and adolescents on their platforms when the crimes of child abuse already exceed 36 million complaints.

When Mark Zuckerberg turned towards the public audience attending his hearing before the Senate last Wednesday to apologize for the facilities that social networks offer to sexual predators of minors, he found parents holding up photos of their children, victims of abuse through the internet, while Lindsay Graham's words "you have blood on your hands" still echoed in the room. An image that graphically summarizes the current situation of sexual abuse of children and adolescents on these platforms, which has skyrocketed in recent years, surpassing 36 million complaints for this cause in 2023 and which resulted in the suicide of dozens of minors over the past year, according to National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

A 300% increase in cases of sexual solicitation of minors on networks

The excuses mixed with justifications from the CEO of Meta did not serve to reassure, much less satisfy, those present. "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 making industry-wide efforts to make sure no one has to go through the things your families have had to suffer," he said when he spoke.

Some statements that did not prevent the senators, regardless of the party they represent, from strongly criticizing Zuckerberg himself and the directors of X, Snapchat, Tik Tok and Discord present in the room. Faced with the security investment figures of those responsible for the networks, the president of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democrat, Dick Durbin, pointed out the spectacular increase in crimes such as sexual enticement to minors (which includes the sextortion) on these platforms, which has gone from 80,000 reported cases in 2022 to 186,000 in 2023, an increase of 300%. This represents more than 105 million images, videos and other files of sexual content of children or adolescents.

Redistribution of images and revictimization of minors

In this sense, the NCMEC pointed to one of the great damages suffered by the victims of these abuses: the redistribution of these contents "over and over," with which "these children are revictimized every time." The experts stressed the importance of citizen collaboration - in addition to the approval of several laws that are in both chambers of the Capitol - to be able to definitively eradicate this scourge by denouncing this type of content and even the suspicions that it may exist. Senator Ted Cruz directly asked Zuckerberg, "What the hell were you thinking?" when he criticized the platform for leaving only alert screens as protection in front of these images, warning users that the content they are about to access "may contain images of child abuse," yet allowing them to continue viewing them on Facebook and Instagram.

"Decisive actions" such as grounding planes if danger is detected

Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar criticized the CEOs present for the "inaction" of the technology industry, comparing it to what happens in aeronautics when a failure is detected in an airplane.

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?

"When the spotlight fades, they go back to their old ways"

Among those present was Raúl Torrez, attorney general of New Mexico, who denounced Meta for " helping human trafficking and the spread of child sexual exploitation," and for whom he valued Zuckerberg's apology with a forceful "too little, too late." In statements to The New York Post, Torrez denounced how the CEO of Meta "has appeared before Congress many times before, he has given assurances about the safety of his platforms many times before. It seems that once the spotlight fades, they go right back to doing business as usual"

It was clear to me that members of the committee have lost any faith in the leadership of these companies – particularly Mr. Zuckerberg. I think the American people are skeptical and parents remain deeply concerned about the kind of content we uncovered in our investigation.

Torrez's proposal to Zuckerberg is clear: "He needs to not think about these decisions simply as a business executive. He’s a parent – start acting like it. Place the same kind of safeguards and protections that he would demand for his own children and apply them to his business. If he did that, we’d all be in a better place."