[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), the lead sponsor of the bipartisan Kids Online Safety Act, questioned Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing with Big Tech CEOs on his failures to make its platforms safe for young people.
Zuckerberg’s Constitutional Right to Lie to Congress
Blumenthal pressed Zuckerberg about a recent lawsuit brought by parents of kids who have been harmed on Meta platforms, in which attorneys representing Zuckerberg argue that he has a constitutionally protected right to lie to Congress. Parents have brought this lawsuit against Zuckerberg based on what they allege are fraudulent and misleading claims Zuckerberg has made in regards to kids safety, including statements he made to Congress. In his defense, Zuckerberg’s lawyers argue that the First Amendment provides him with constitutional protections against any liability for his statements to Congress about kids online safety, even if his statements are false.
Blumenthal: Mr. Zuckerberg, do you believe that you have a constitutional right to lie to Congress?
Zuckerberg: Senator, no, but…
Blumenthal: Let me clarify for you. In a lawsuit brought by hundreds of parents, some in this very room, alleging that you made false and misleading statements concerning the safety of your platform for children, you argue in not just one pleading, but twice, in December and then in January, that you have a constitutional right to lie to Congress. Do you disavow that filing in court?
Zuckerberg: Senator, I don’t know what filing you are talking about, but I testify honestly and truthfully.
New Meta Documents Reveal Previous Executives’ Testimony was Untrue
Blumenthal questioned Zuckerberg about the previous testimony of Meta’s Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis before the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection in September 2021, which Blumenthal chaired at the time. Blumenthal juxtaposed Davis’ statements to newly available internal company emails reflecting Meta’s lack of investments in kids’ online safety and Zuckerberg’s personal opposition to his advisors’ requests for more resources in this space.
Blumenthal: [Davis] told us, and I’m quoting, “Facebook is committed to building better products for young people, and to doing everything we can to protect their privacy, safety, and well-being on our platforms.” And she also said, “Kids’ safety is an area where ‘we are investing heavily.’”
We now know that statement was untrue. We know it from an internal email that we have received. It’s an email written by Nick Clegg-- You know who he is, correct? He was Meta’s President of Global Affairs, and he wrote a memo to you, which you received. Correct? It was written to you.
Zuckerberg: I can’t see the email, but sure I’ll assume that you got that correct.
Blumenthal: And he summarized Facebook's problems. He said, “We are not on track to succeed for our core well-being topics-- problematic use, bullying and harassment, connections, and SSI,” meaning suicidal self-injury.
He said also, in another memo, “We need to do more, and we are being held back by a lack of investment.” This memo has the date of August 28th, just weeks before that testimony from Antigone Davis. Correct?
Zuckerberg: Sir, Senator, I am not sure what the date of the testimony was.
Blumenthal: Well, those are the dates on the emails. Nick Clegg was asking you, pleading with you, for resources to back up the narrative, to fulfill the commitments. In effect, Antigone Davis was making promises that Nick Clegg was trying to fulfill, and you rejected that request for 45 to 84 engineers to do well-being or safety.
We know that you rejected it from another memo. Nick Clegg's assistant [X] said, “Nick did email Mark,” referring to that earlier email, “to emphasize his support for the package, but it lost out to the various other pressures and priorities.”
We have done a calculation that those potentially 84 engineers would have cost Meta about $50 million in a quarter when it earned $9.2 billion. And yet it failed to make that commitment in real terms, and you rejected that request because of other pressures and priorities.
That is an example, from your own internal document, of failing to act, and it is the reason why we can no longer trust Meta, and frankly any of the other social media, to, in effect, grade their own homework. The public, and particularly the parents in this room, know that we can no longer rely on social media to provide the kind of safeguards that children and parents deserve, and that is the reason why passing the Kids Online Safety Act is so critically important.
Support for the Kids Online Safety Act
Blumenthal demanded each of the testifying CEOs to go on the record and declare their support for the Kids Online Safety Act, with Snap and X stating their support of the legislation, and Meta, Discord, and TikTok failing to commit.
Blumenthal concluded, stating: “Unfortunately, I don’t think we can count on social media as a group, or Big Tech, to support this measure, and in the past, we know it has been opposed by armies of lawyers and lobbyists. We are prepared for this fight, but I am very, very glad that we have parents here. Because tomorrow, we are going to have an advocacy day, and the folks who really count, the people in this room who support this measure, are going to be going to their representatives and their senators, and their voices and faces are going to make a difference. Senator Schumer has committed that he will work with me to bring this bill to a vote. And then, we will have real protection for children and parents online.”
The video of Blumenthal’s questions at today’s hearing is available here, and the full transcript is available upon request.
The bipartisan Kids Online Safety Act, led by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), would provide kids and parents with better tools to protect themselves online, hold Big Tech accountable for harms to kids, and provide transparency into black box algorithms. The legislation is strongly supported by a broad coalition of parents who have tragically lost their children or whose kids have been severely harmed by Big Tech, young people who want to regain control over their online lives, and experts and advocates who study and see the negative effects of social media firsthand in their communities. The bill has the support of nearly half of the U.S. Senate.