(Bloomberg) — In an unscripted scene during tense testimony Wednesday, Meta Platforms Inc. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg stood before a packed Senate hearing room and apologized directly to the families of children who were victims of sexual exploitation on social media platforms.
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“I am sorry for everything that you have all gone through,” Zuckerberg said Wednesday while facing a crowd of safety advocates and parents holding photos of their children. “It’s terrible. No one should have to go through the things that your families have suffered.”
The impromptu moment came during an an hours-long Senate hearing on protecting children online. Zuckerberg had faced intense criticism and pressure from Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, who ripped into the executive personally and blamed Meta’s photo sharing app, Instagram, for an alleged failure to protect its young users against mental health issues and exposure to sexually explicit content.
Hawley challenged the Meta co-founder on whether the victims of sexual exploitation online should be compensated by companies like Meta — and Zuckerberg personally — and then prompted him to apologize directly to the families in attendance.
“Let me ask you this, there’s families of victims here today. Have you apologized to the victims?” Hawley asked. “Would you like to do so now? They’re here, you’re on national television.”
“Would you like to apologize for what you’ve done to these good people?”
Zuckerberg then stood up at the table and turned around to address the audience.
No stranger to the congressional hot seat, Zuckerberg received most of the attention and attacks during the first few hours of the hearing, despite sitting next to the CEOs of Snap Inc., TikTok, X and Discord. At several points, he became visibly frustrated as senators hammered him, often talking over him.
At one point, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas raised his voice at Zuckerberg, who pushed back. “Senator, do you want me to answer your question?” Zuckerberg quipped. “Give me some time to speak.”
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