Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff today pressed Mark Zuckerberg on the safety of children online.
In a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing, Sen. Ossoff pressed Mr. Zuckerberg, whose company owns Facebook, Instagram, Threads, and WhatsApp, on threats to children’s safety and their mental health on social media platforms.
“There are families here who have lost their children. There are families across the country whose children have engaged in self-harm, who have experienced low self-esteem, who have been sold deadly pills on the internet. The internet’s a dangerous place for children. And your platforms are dangerous places for children,” Sen. Ossoff said to Mr. Zuckerberg.
During the hearing, Sen. Ossoff raised with Mr. Zuckerberg the conflict between his company’s fiscal responsibilities to make children use his platforms more and threats to children’s mental health and safety online. When pressed by Sen. Ossoff, Mr. Zuckerberg acknowledged his company’s goals are to make their platforms “useful enough that they [children] want to use them more.”
Sen. Ossoff cited a recent U.S. Surgeon General report that found children and adolescents who spend more than 3 hours a day on social media face double the risk of poor mental health, including experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety.
“We have to acknowledge these basic truths. We have to be able to come before the American people, the American public, the people in my State of Georgia, and acknowledge the internet is dangerous — including your platforms,” Sen. Ossoff said in his closing remarks. “There are predators lurking. There are drugs being sold. There are harms to mental health that are taking a huge toll on kids’ quality of life. And yet, you have this incentive — not just you, Mr. Zuckerberg — all of you have an incentive to boost and maximize use, utilization, and engagement — and that is where public policy has to step in to make sure that these platforms are safe for kids. So kids are not dying. So kids are not overdosing. So kids are not cutting themselves or killing themselves, because they’re spending all day scrolling, instead of playing outside.”
Sen. Ossoff has introduced and passed several bipartisan bills aimed at protecting children from abuse and exploitation.
Late last year, Sen. Ossoff’s bipartisan Preventing Child Sex Abuse Act of 2023 with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) was signed into law to strengthen Federal protections against the sexual abuse of children, including online exploitation.
Last December, Sen. Ossoff’s bipartisan REPORT Act with Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) passed the U.S. Senate, which would strengthen the national tipline run by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), which collects reports of online exploitation, and would also require evidence to be preserved for a longer period, giving law enforcement more time to investigate and prosecute crimes.
Last November, the bipartisan Project Safe Neighborhood Act, cosponsored by Sen. Ossoff, also passed the U.S. Senate to strengthen the DOJ’s Project Safe Childhood program and boost resources to combat the online sexual exploitation of children in Georgia and across the country.
In September, Sens. Ossoff and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) launched an inquiry with Attorney General Merrick Garland about the FBI’s capacity to investigate and respond to crimes involving child sexual abuse and exploitation.
Last summer, Sens. Ossoff and Blackburn called on Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Department of Justice to increase resources needed to prosecute cases involving the creation of child sex abuse material (CSAM) through artificial intelligence technology.
Please find a transcript of Sen. Ossoff’s line of questioning below:
SEN. OSSOFF: “Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you to our witnesses today. Mr. Zuckerberg, I want to begin by just asking a simple question, which is, do you want kids to use your platform more or less?”
ZUCKERBERG: “Well, we don’t want people under the age of 13 using…”
SEN. OSSOFF: “Do you want teenagers 13 and up to use your platform more or less?”
ZUCKERBERG: “Well, we would like to build a product that is useful, and that people want to use.”
SEN. OSSOFF: “My time is going to be limited. So, it’s just, do you want them to use it more or less — teenagers 13 to 17 years old? Do you want them using Meta products more or less?”
ZUCKERBERG: “I’d like them to be useful enough that they want to use them more.”
SEN. OSSOFF: “You want them to use it more. I think herein we have one of the fundamental challenges. In fact, you have a fiduciary obligation, do you not to try to get kids to use your platform more?”
ZUCKERBERG: “It depends on how you define that. We obviously are a business.”
SEN. OSSOFF: “But it’s, I’m sorry, Mr. Zuckerberg, just our time… It’s self-evident that you have a fiduciary obligation to get your users, including users under 18, to use and engage with your platform more, rather than less, correct?”
ZUCKERBERG: “Over the long term. But in the near term, we often take a lot of steps, including we made a change to show less videos on the platform that reduced amount of time by more than 50 million hours.”
SEN. OSSOFF: “Okay. But if your shareholders ask you, Mark … I wouldn’t, Mr. Zuckerberg here, but your shareholders might be on a first-name basis with you. Mark, are you trying to get kids to use Meta products more or less? You’d say more, right?”
ZUCKERBERG: “Well, I would say that over the long-term we’re trying to get the most value as possible.”
SEN. OSSOFF: “I mean, let’s, so the 10-K you filed with the SEC, a few things I want to note. Here are some quotes. And this is a filing that you signed, correct?”
SEN. OSSOFF: “Yeah. ‘Our financial performance has been and will continue to be significantly determined by our success and adding retaining and engaging active users.’
“Here’s another quote, ‘If our users decreased their level of engagement with our products, our revenue, financial results, and business may be significantly harmed.’
“Here’s another quote, ‘We believe that some users, particularly younger users, are aware of and actively engaging with other products and services similar to, or as a substitute for ours, continues in the event that users increasingly engaged with other products and services, we may experience a decline in use and engagement in key demographics or more broadly, in which case our business would likely be harmed.’
“You have an obligation as the chief executive to encourage your team to get kids to use your platform more. Is that not self-evident? You have a fiduciary obligation to your shareholders to get kids to use your platform more.”
ZUCKERBERG: “I think that the thing that’s not intuitive is the direction is to make the products more useful, so that way, people want to use them more. We don’t give the teams running the Instagram feed, or the Facebook feed, a goal to increase the amount of time that people spend.”
SEN. OSSOFF: “But you don’t dispute, and your 10-K makes clear, you want your users engaging more and using more the platform. And I think this gets to the root of the challenge, because it’s the overwhelming view of the public, certainly in my home State of Georgia. And we’ve had some discussions about the underlying science, that this platform is harmful for children.
“I mean, you are familiar with — and not just your platform by the way, social media in general — 2023 report from the Surgeon General about the impact of social media on kids’ mental health, which cited evidence that kids who spend more than three hours a day on social media have double the risk of poor mental health outcomes, including depression and anxiety.
“You’re familiar with that Surgeon General Report and the underlying study?”
ZUCKERBERG: “I read the report. Yes.”
SEN. OSSOFF: “Do you dispute it?”
ZUCKERBERG: “No. But I think it’s important to characterize it correctly. I think what he was flagging in the report is that there seems to be a correlation. And obviously, the mental health issue is very important. So, it’s something that needs to be studied further.”
SEN. OSSOFF: “The thing is that everyone knows there’s a correlation. Everyone knows that kids who spend a lot of time, too much time on your platforms are at risk. And it’s not just the mental health issues.”
“I mean, let me ask you another question. Is your platform safe for kids?”
ZUCKERBERG: “I believe it is. But there’s a difference between correlation and causation.”
SEN. OSSOFF: “Because we’re not going to be able to get anywhere. We want to work in a productive, open, honest, and collaborative way with the private sector to pass legislation that will protect Americans, that will protect American children above all, and that will allow businesses to thrive in this country. If we don’t start with an open, honest, candid, realistic assessment of the issues. We can’t do that.”
“The first point is you want kids to use the platform more. In fact, you have an obligation to. But if you’re not willing to acknowledge that it’s a dangerous place for children. The internet is a dangerous place for children, not just your platform, isn’t it? Isn’t the internet a dangerous place for children?”
ZUCKERBERG: “I think it can be. Yeah, there’s both great things that people can do and there are harms that we need to work.”
SEN. OSSOFF: “Yeah, it’s a dangerous place for children. There are families here who have lost their children. There are families across the country whose children have engaged in self-harm, who have experienced low self-esteem, who have been sold deadly pills on the internet.”
“The internet’s a dangerous place for children. And your platforms are dangerous places for children. Do you agree?”
ZUCKERBERG: “I think that there are harms that we need to work to mitigate. I mean, I’m not gonna, I think…”
SEN. OSSOFF: “Why not? Why not? Why not just acknowledge it? Why? Why do we have to do that very careful …”
ZUCKERBERG: “I disagree with the characterization.”
SEN. OSSOFF: “Which characterization? That the internet is a dangerous place for children?”
ZUCKERBERG: “I think you’re trying to characterize our products as inherently dangerous. And I think that …”
SEN. OSSOFF: “Inherent or not, your products are places where children can experience harm, they can experience harm to their mental health, they can be sold drugs, that can be preyed upon by predators, that, you know, they’re dangerous places.
“And yet, you have an obligation to promote the use of these platforms by children.
“All I’m trying to suggest to you, Mr. Zuckerberg, and my time is running short, is that in order for you to succeed, you and your colleagues here, we have to acknowledge these basic truths.
“We have to be able to come before the American people, the American public, the people in my State of Georgia and acknowledge the internet is dangerous, including your platforms.
“There are predators lurking, there are drugs being sold, there are harms to mental health that are taking a huge toll on kids’ quality of life. And yet, you have this incentive, not just you, Mr. Zuckerberg, all of you have an incentive to boost maximize use utilization and engagement.
“And that is where public policy has to step in, to make sure that these platforms are safe for kids. So kids are not dying. So kids are not overdosing. So kids are not cutting themselves or killing themselves, because they’re spending all day scrolling, instead of playing outside, and I appreciate all of you for your testimony. We will continue to engage as we develop this legislation. Thank you.”
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