(CTN News) – Hours before Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Meta, was scheduled to testify on Wednesday about kid safety online, lawmakers revealed internal documents revealing how his business has ignored pleas to increase resources to address the problem.
In 90 pages of internal emails from autumn 2021, top executives at Meta, which owns Instagram and Facebook, considered hiring dozens of engineers and other personnel to focus on children’s well-being and safety. Mr. Zuckerberg refused a request to hire 45 more employees, accounting for only 1% of Meta’s overall workforce.
The documents, which are being revealed in their entirety for the first time, were highlighted in a lawsuit filed last year by 33 state solicitors general, who accused Meta of hooking teenage people on its apps.
They contradict statements made by company executives, including the head of global safety and the head of Instagram, who testified in congressional hearings on child safety during that time that they valued the well-being of their youngest users and would work harder to combat harmful content on their platform.
Mr Zuckerberg, who will testify before Congress for the eighth time on Wednesday, is under pressure to defend Meta’s lack of investment in child safety in the face of rising complaints about toxic and harmful content online, according to Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, who released the emails with Senator Marsha Blackburn, Republican of Tennessee.
“The hypocrisy is mind-boggling,” Mr. Blumenthal stated during an interview. “We’ve heard time and time again how much they care and are working on this but the documents show a very different picture.”
Meta has produced more than 30 tools to assist protect kids, and it has a “robust” team managing youth well-being, according to Andy Stone, a Meta spokesman. However, “these cherry-picked documents do not provide the full context of how the company operates or what decisions were made.”
The emails included Mr. Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, the former chief operating officer, and Nick Clegg, the president of global affairs, though they did not always respond. The emails reveal senior officials arguing about budgets and head counts while also acknowledging regulatory issues relating to their treatment of young customers.
One event exposed in the documents was Mr. Clegg’s August 2021 request for 45 more staff personnel. It was rejected, so he returned to Mr. Zuckerberg in November with a reduced plan for 32 new staff. It’s unclear what Mr. Zuckerberg decided.
Mr. Clegg stated that the firm was failing to reach targets for preventing bullying, harassment, and other harmful activities on Instagram and Facebook, and warned that global authorities could take action.
He stated that investing in employees would allow the corporation to “stand behind our external narrative of well-being on our apps.”
According to a copy of his prepared remarks, Mr. Zuckerberg planned to speak on the challenges of being a parent in the digital era before the documents were released. He also intended to defend Meta by citing the dozens of tools the firm released over the last eight years to give parents more control.
According to the prepared testimony, Meta employs over 40,000 people across its apps to address safety and security issues, and it has committed more than $20 billion in those efforts since 2016. Nearly a fifth of that money was invested during the last year. It’s unclear how much of the $20 billion is allocated to kid protection.
Meta’s Long-standing Narrative of Balancing Good and Harm on the Internet
A significant line of questioning on Wednesday is anticipated to focus on how applications verify users’ ages, as the business does not allow users under the age of 13.
According to his prepared statements, Mr Zuckerberg plans to argue during the hearing that Apple carries responsibility for validating ages through its App Store. He also intends to push laws that would compel minors to get parental permission before installing apps.
Mr. Zuckerberg has always portrayed Meta — and the internet in general — as a place for both good and bad. He has stated that his company’s mission is to promote the good while attempting to mitigate the bad.
According to his planned remarks, he also intends to emphasise how the internet can be a constructive place for everybody, especially children.
“They use our apps to feel more connected, informed, and entertained, as well as to express themselves, create things, and explore their interests,” he intends to say in his prepared remarks. “Overall, teens tell us this is a positive part of their lives.”