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Mark Zuckerberg addresses families at Senate hearing on child safety| GuyWhoKnowsThings

Mark Zuckerberg stood to directly address relatives of victims of online child abuse on the Senate floor Wednesday, a first for the Meta CEO and a singular moment in a morning filled with tense exchanges during a Senate hearing. Judicial Committee on Child Safety.

“I'm sorry for everything you've been through,” Zuckerberg said, turning his back to the bipartisan panel of senators and toward family members, many of whom held photos of their deceased loved ones. “No one should have to go through the things their families have suffered.”

Zuckerberg added that the company was continuing to work on the issue to prevent other families from going through similar experiences.

The moment came after a tense exchange with Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri. The senator pressed Zuckerberg on a number of issues, including what he said was Meta's inability to adequately act on what he characterized as rampant child exploitation and abuse on the social media company's numerous apps: Facebook, Instagram , WhatsApp and Messenger.

Zuckerberg drew the most scrutiny from senators during the wide-ranging hearing on child online safety, in which the CEOs of X, Snap, Discord and TikTok also testified. They pressed him on issues including child sexual abuse content and whether he supported proposed legislation to stop it.

Zuckerberg has staunchly defended his company's actions, noting during the hearing that it has authorized more than $20 billion to help safeguard the platform and has hired tens of thousands of employees.

But he has also said that operating Meta inherently means making compromises, trying to elevate the good experiences (facilitating connections between friends, loved ones, celebrities and interests) and mitigating the bad ones. Senators who questioned him emphasized that he should focus the company's efforts on doing a much better job in the latter category.

Before Zuckerberg addressed the gallery, Hawley asked if Meta would offer any compensation to the families of deceased children who were abused on the platform, adding that “their product is killing people.” Zuckerberg did not directly answer the question. Most of Hawley's questions were shouted at the CEO.

“Your job is to be accountable for what your company has done,” Senator Hawley said before Zuckerberg stood up to address the room. “You have made billions of dollars from the people sitting behind you here. You've done nothing to help them, you've done nothing to make it up to them, and you've done nothing to fix it. You could do it here today and you should.”

After Zuckerberg finished speaking, family members in the Senate gallery fell silent.

Contacted later, Mary Rodee, a parent in the courtroom, said she and other parents of the victims were skeptical of Zuckerberg's comments to them. She said she waited two years for a response from Meta about the death of her son, who she said committed suicide in 2021 after sexual exploitation on Facebook Messenger.

“Companies are not doing enough,” he said. “Enough talking.”

Cecilia Kang contributed reporting from Washington, D.C.

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