Meta, TikTok CEOs to Defend Against Claims Their Platforms Hurt Children

Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) will lead Wednesday’s hearing.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) will lead Wednesday’s hearing.


Two lawmakers released Meta internal documents showing that officials asked the CEO to invest in protections for children.

WASHINGTON—Meta Platforms’ Mark Zuckerberg, TikTok’s Shou Zi Chew and other tech CEOs will take heat on Wednesday from senators who say that online risks for children are growing—and going largely ignored by some social-media platforms.

The Wall Street Journal has highlighted persistent dangers to children on social-media platforms in recent years, including how Instagram’s algorithms connect a vast network of pedophiles and how TikTok’s algorithm serves teens weight-loss videos and other concerning content. The industry also faces a wave of lawsuits from people who say they have been harmed by social media and from state attorneys general making similar claims.

Zuckerberg could face tough questions from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee about internal Meta documents released Wednesday by two lawmakers that show top company officials asking him to invest in additional protections for children on their platforms.

Those requests for resources weren’t granted, according to state attorneys general who previously referenced some of the same material.

“Zuckerberg refused to fund programs that support the protection and well-being of kids, even after being urged to by his entire team," Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) said in an interview. Blumenthal and Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.) obtained the Meta documents, some of which had been previously cited in filings by attorneys general in Tennessee, Massachusetts, Colorado and New Mexico.

A Meta spokesman said the documents “do not provide the full context of how the company operates or what decisions were made" and noted Zuckerberg’s written testimony for the hearing said the company has spent $5 billion on safety and security in the past year.

“I’m proud of the work our teams have done to improve online child safety, not just on our services but across the entire internet," Zuckerberg said in the prepared remarks, pointing to technology that detects inappropriate or abusive content and “controls to help parents navigate the reality of raising kids today, including tools that enable them to be more involved in their kids’ decisions."

Lawmakers including Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin (D., Ill.), who will lead Wednesday’s hearing, have introduced several bills to address problems with sexual exploitation of children online, including by making it easier to sue tech platforms used to harm young people.

So far, despite other congressional tongue-lashings for Silicon Valley CEOs, legislation has stalled.

In addition to Meta and TikTok, the hearing also will include the chief executives of X, Snap and Discord. But Meta’s Zuckerberg and TikTok’s Chew, who are locked in a fierce competition for social-media users, are likely to come in for most of the tough questions, according to Senate aides.

Zuckerberg plans to tell lawmakers that there are positive aspects of children’s interactions on Meta platforms, according to his prepared testimony for the hearing. He will also praise Facebook’s investment in child-safety work, saying the company has gone beyond legal requirements in seeking to remove abusive material.

Meta reported about 27.2 million instances of suspected child sexual-abuse material on its main platforms to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in 2022, far more than any other company, according to the nonprofit group’s data. The U.S. total for all platforms was about 32 million in 2022.

But Meta has announced plans to encrypt messaging on its platforms, a step that will block the automated detection systems responsible for the majority of its reports.

Chew will tout TikTok’s growing U.S. user base—now at 170 million, up from 150 million in 2023—and its average age of 30. He plans to say that the platform takes steps to minimize the exploitation of children, such as prohibitions on direct messaging for users under 16 and on recommending their videos to strangers.

Snap CEO Evan Spiegel on Wednesday plans to emphasize benefits for young people on his platform, saying in written testimony that social media made him feel miserable as a teenager. So he says he designed the Snapchat messaging app “to open into the camera, instead of a content feed, to encourage creativity instead of passive consumption."

Groups representing young victims of online harms including social-media addiction and sexual exploitation held media events on Tuesday to help drum up support for lawmakers’ efforts to rein in social-media platforms. One featured the father of a Michigan teenager, Jordan DeMay, who died by suicide after falling victim to an online extortion scheme.

John DeMay, Jordan’s father, said he hopes the Senate hearing will bring awareness “that social media is not a safe place, especially for children." He and his family are considering legal options.

But suing the companies for harm to children can be legally difficult.

Currently, the platforms often can avoid liability when someone is harmed as a result of social-media use because of special legal protections that Congress created for the platforms in the 1990s when the internet was in its infancy. Those protections generally immunize the platforms from liability for harm from content generated by other users.

Durbin and other lawmakers have proposed removing those special legal protections in cases where children are sexually exploited.

Industry representatives say that those bills could harm users’ privacy, mainly by discouraging the platforms’ use of encryption. Tech industry allies argue that could affect a range of groups from LGBTQ youth to people seeking reproductive health services.

Some advocates for children note that some tech companies are already moving to expand the use of encryption, which the advocates say could make it easier for the platforms to ignore harmful content.

Some lawmakers are skeptical that any package can break through the opposition from tech companies and their allies.

“The reason no big tech legislation has moved…is the amount of money and the influence they wield," said Sen. Josh Hawley (R., Mo.), who is a member of the Judiciary Committee.

Jeff Horwitz contributed to this article.

Write to John D. McKinnon at and Ryan Tracy at

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