In preparation for his eighth congressional testimony, Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Meta, is facing scrutiny over the company’s alleged lack of investment in child safety. The release of 90 pages of internal emails from fall 2021 has revealed that Meta debated adding dozens of engineers and other employees to focus on children’s well-being and safety. However, a proposal for 45 new staff members was ultimately declined. These documents were cited in a lawsuit last year by 33 state attorneys general who accused Meta of hooking young users on its apps, contradicting previous statements from company executives about prioritizing the well-being of their youngest users and combatting harmful content on their platform.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, who released the emails with Senator Marsha Blackburn, Republican of Tennessee, expressed his frustration at the perceived hypocrisy, stating, “The hypocrisy is mind-boggling. We’ve heard time and time again how much they care and are working on this but the documents show a very different picture.”
The release of these documents has put Meta on the defensive, with a spokesman highlighting the company’s creation of more than 30 tools to protect teens and a “robust” team overseeing youth well-being. However, the emails also reveal that senior executives at Meta were aware of regulatory threats related to their handling of teenage users and the company’s failure to meet goals to prevent bullying and harassment on their platforms.
In response to the upcoming congressional testimony, Mr. Zuckerberg’s prepared remarks include plans to emphasize the difficulties of parenting in the digital age and to defend Meta’s track record by pointing to the company’s investments in safety and security efforts. He also plans to suggest that Apple bear the responsibility for verifying ages and to encourage legislation requiring parental approval for teenagers to download apps.
Opinion on the topic varies, with critics highlighting the apparent lack of commitment to child safety, while supporters point to the significant investments and tools implemented by Meta. The debate over the responsibilities of tech companies in protecting young users is likely to continue as Mr. Zuckerberg faces questioning from lawmakers.