Mark Zuckerberg apologizes to families over social media harms in contentious Senate hearing


Mark Zuckerberg apologizes to families over social media harms in contentious Senate hearing

3:41 p.m. ET, January 31, 2024

Mom whose son died from fentanyl-laced pill ordered on Snapchat slams CEO apology as ‘fake’

From CNN’s Catherine Thorbecke

Bridgette Norring, a mother whose son died from an accidental fentanyl overdose after ordering a pill off of Snapchat, slammed the apology she received today from Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel as “fake.”

“It lacked any heart,” Norring told CNN after the hearing wrapped on Wednesday afternoon. “I think he could have done better in his apology to us.”  

When asked what was going through her mind as she listened to the tech CEOs defend themselves, Norring said that it was “very frustrating to sit and listen to them.”

“I just feel like for them, our children are just casualties, pawns, in this game to make money,” Norring said.

Norring appeared on CNN News Central shortly after the hearing concluded alongside Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota. She held a picture of her son, Devin Norring, as she spoke, with the emotion apparent in her voice.

Klobuchar was visibly shaken during the hearing, calling for lawmakers to finally enact change after what she said was decades of inaction on legislation aimed at reeling in social media companies.

“I just want to get this stuff done, I’m so tired of this,” Klobuchar told CNN News Central. “It’s been 28 years, what since the internet? We haven’t passed any of these bills … it’s time to actually pass them.”

3:37 p.m. ET, January 31, 2024

Here’s why it’s hard to sue social media platforms

From CNN’s Clare Duffy

During Wednesday’s hearing, several lawmakers lamented the fact that it’s nearly impossible to successfully sue the social media giants to hold them accountable for problematic content on their platforms.

“I am tired of talking. I’m tired of having discussions,” South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said. “Open up the courthouse door. Until you do that, nothing will change. Until these people can be sued for the damage they’re doing, it is all talk.”

The reason it’s so hard to sue social media platforms is a 28-year-old federal law called “Section 230,” which holds that tech companies cannot be held liable for the content that users post to their platforms.

The statute has for years been criticized by both Republicans and Democrats. But tech companies and digital rights groups have defended as vital to a functioning internet.

On Wednesday, lawmakers called for the repeal of Section 230.

“It is now time to make sure that the people who are holding up the signs can sue on behalf of their loved ones. Nothing will change until the courtroom door is open to victims and social media,” Graham said.

3:33 p.m. ET, January 31, 2024

Sen. Ed Markey blasts tech CEO “excuses”

From CNN’s Brian Fung

Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ed Markey went after tech CEOs following Wednesday’s hearing, saying the executives had little to offer besides “excuses.”

“Their CEOs showed up today with even more excuses. It was outrageous,” Markey said.

Markey who pioneered the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, a 1998 law that bars the nonconsensual collection of data of kids under age 13, urged his congressional colleagues to pass an update to the law extending those protections to teens.

“An apology by Mark Zuckerberg is not enough,” Markey said. “We need action. We need laws. We need protections …. we’re fed up with apologies.“

As he concluded his remarks and walked away, onlookers shouted after him urging Markey to support the Kids Online Safety Act, another hot-button bill backed by Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Marsha Blackburn.

3:18 p.m. ET, January 31, 2024

New Mexico attorney general says Zuckerberg “needs to start acting like a parent”

From CNN’s Brian Fung

In a press conference on the Capitol grounds, New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez described testimony by Zuckerberg and other tech CEOs as a “command performance” but said that parents can attest that the platforms “aren’t living up to their promises.”

Zuckerberg, he said, “needs to start acting like a parent. He has kids himself. He needs to start acting like that.”

“When he builds these platforms, when he makes these decisions, he needs to think about what it would be like to have his son or daughter exposed to this,” Torrez continued. “He needs to think about what it would be like to live through the pain and heartbreak that these parents have had to endure. He needs to really take a step back and evaluate his priorities and start helping us build a better future and stop fighting, real change.”

Torrez filed a lawsuit against Meta in December, which accuses the company of creating a “breeding ground” for child predators.

2:52 p.m. ET, January 31, 2024

Meta whistleblower Arturo Béjar expresses disappointment

From CNN’s Brian Fung

Arturo Béjar, a Meta whistleblower who went public last year alleging Mark Zuckerberg ignored internal warnings about child safety, told CNN the company’s behavior in the hearing made clear Zuckerberg does not prioritize the issue.

Internal documents released by two US lawmakers today highlighted how Zuckerberg did not respond to senior executives’ warnings that inaction could create major risks for the company.

“The emails the Senate made available today, and his responses during testimony, show that Mark Zuckerberg and Meta do not care about the harm teens experience on their products,” Béjar said. “[Meta President of Global Affairs] Clegg writes about profound gaps with addiction, self-harm, bullying and harassment to Mark. Mark did not respond, and those gaps are unaddressed today … Children are not his priority.”

2:40 p.m. ET, January 31, 2024

Families and victims were a massive force in today’s hearing

From CNN’s Brian Fung

People held up photographs and placards during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

The families of people harmed by social media proved to be an immense force in Wednesday’s hearing.

Through applause, laughter at CEO testimony, hisses and moments of silence, the parents who say their children suffered or died as a result of social media served as a key foil. They drove tensions higher and in some cases appeared to fuel the attacks of lawmakers against the CEOs.

Congress has held many tech CEO hearings. But more than any other, the presence of so many parents in the room transformed the hearing and injected an unprecedented sense of urgency.

2:53 p.m. ET, January 31, 2024

Zuckerberg apology was “mindblowing,” Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen tells CNN

From CNN’s Brian Fung

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen in 2022 during an Unfinished Live event at The Shed in New York City. Craig Barritt/Getty Images

The Facebook whistleblower who kicked off years of scrutiny on the impact of social media on teens said Mark Zuckerberg’s apology to parents was “mindblowing.”

Today’s hearing would have been inconceivable just a handful of years ago, she said, when lawmakers were asking Zuckerberg basic questions about how his company makes money.

“Almost every hearing since has been substantially more meaningful, and they’ve asked more insightful questions, more relevant questions. This was four hours long, and there were maybe 20 minutes where I was like, ‘Do you really know what you’re asking?’ And that’s amazing.”

Asked about the potential for legislation to move forward, Haugen said she would be surprised if “we make it through another [electoral] cycle where we don’t see something.”

2:31 p.m. ET, January 31, 2024

Here’s a recap of the key moments from the hearing

From CNN’s Brian Fung and Clare Duffy

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s grilling of four social media executives produced some notable moments. Here are a few:

Zuckerberg, Spiegel personally apologize to families: Meta CEO Zuckerberg stood to apologize to the families in the hearing room. “I’m sorry for everything you have all been through,” he said. “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.”

Mark Zuckerberg spoke to victims and their family members as he testified during the US Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, “Big Tech and the Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis.” Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

Snap CEO Evan Spiegel also apologized to families whose children have died after they purchased drugs on Snapchat. “I’m so sorry that we have not been able to prevent these tragedies,” Spiegel said, before detailing some of the efforts the company takes to protect young users.

(L-R) Jason Citron, CEO of Discord, Evan Spiegel, CEO of Snap, Shou Zi Chew, CEO of TikTok, Linda Yaccarino, CEO of X during the hearing today. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

“The dark side” of social media products “is too great”: Social media companies have created products that have an upside, but they also have a dark side that is “too great to live with,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said Wednesday while grilling chief executives of four such companies. Until social media companies are sued for the damage they are doing, Graham warned that there will be no change.

Judiciary Committee Ranking Member U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) spoke during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on online child sexual exploitation at the U.S. Capitol today. Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

Hating social media companies is a rare unifying force on Capitol Hill: Wednesday’s hearing again demonstrates the breadth of criticism for social media companies among lawmakers, a rare bipartisan topic on Capitol Hill. Despite both parties’ appetite for going after tech platforms, however, Congress has yet to pass meaningful legislation to regulate social media companies. Most of the action has taken place in state legislatures and in the courts, which have become battlegrounds for new policies including age minimums for social media.

(L-R) Jason Citron, CEO of Discord; Evan Spiegel, CEO of Snap; Shou Zi Chew, CEO of TikTok; Linda Yaccarino, CEO of X; and Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, watched a video of victims before testifying at the US Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

Read the full rundown of key hearing moments here.

1:51 p.m. ET, January 31, 2024

The hearing has wrapped

The Senate Judiciary Committee has wrapped its hearing where lawmakers grilled four tech executives — Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg, TikTok’s Shou Chew, X’s Linda Yaccarino and Discord’s Jason Citron — on the online child sexual exploitation crisis.