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Tech heads from Meta, TikTok and others to testify online on child safety

Tech heads from Meta, TikTok and others to testify online on child safety

Hours before Meta Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg testified Wednesday about online child safety, lawmakers released internal documents showing how his company responded to a massive call for resources to deal with the problem. Was rejected.

In 90 pages of internal emails from autumn 2021, top executives at Meta, which owns Instagram and Facebook, debated adding dozens of engineers and other employees to focus on children's well-being and safety. A proposal by Mr. Zuckerberg for 45 new staff members was rejected.

The documents, which are being released in full for the first time, were cited in a lawsuit last year by 33 state attorneys general who accused Meta of luring young users to its apps. They contradict statements from company executives, including the head of global security and the head of Instagram, who testified at congressional hearings on child safety during that period that they prioritize the well-being of their youngest users and Will work hard to deal with harmful content. Their platform.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, said Mr. Zuckerberg, who will testify before Congress on Wednesday for the eighth time, is on the hot seat to defend Meta's lack of investment in child safety amid growing complaints of toxic and harmful content online. . Who released emails with Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.

“The hypocrisy is mind-boggling,” Mr. Blumenthal said in an interview. “We've heard over and over how much they care about it and are working on it but the documents show a very different picture.”

META has created more than 30 tools to help protect teens, and it has a “robust” team that oversees the well-being of youth, META spokesperson Andy Stone said in a statement. “These are cherry-picked The documents do not provide “the full context of how the company operates or what decisions were made.”

The email also included Mr Zuckerberg; Former Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg; and global affairs chairman Nick Clegg, although he did not always answer. The emails show senior executives debating budgets and head counts, while also acknowledging the regulatory risks associated with dealing with teenage users.

One incident revealed in the documents was a request by Mr Clegg for 45 new staff members in August 2021. This was rejected and he returned to Mr Zuckerberg in November with a proposal for 32 new appointments. It is not clear what made Mr. Zuckerberg decide.

Mr Clegg wrote that the company had failed to meet goals to prevent bullying and harassment and other harmful activities on Instagram and Facebook and warned that global regulators could take action.

He said the investment in staff would enable the company to “stand behind our external narrative of wellbeing on our apps”.

Before the release of these documents, Mr. Zuckerberg's plans for the hearing included speaking about the difficulties of being a parent in the digital age, according to a copy of his prepared remarks. He also planned to defend Meta by pointing to dozens of tools the company has introduced over the past eight years to give parents more control.

Meta has about 40,000 people working on safety and security issues across its apps, according to the prepared testimony, and it has invested more than $20 billion in those efforts since 2016. About a quarter of that investment was spent in the last year. It is unclear how much of the $20 billion is dedicated to child safety.

A large portion of the questioning on Wednesday is expected to focus on how apps verify the age of users, as the company bans users under 13.

At the hearing, Mr. Zuckerberg plans to suggest that Apple take responsibility for age verification through its App Store, according to his prepared remarks. He also plans to encourage legislation that would require teens to get parental approval to download apps.

Mr. Zuckerberg has long established the meta — and the Internet at large — as a place for both good and bad. He has said that his company's job is to uplift the good while trying its best to minimize the harm. According to his prepared remarks, he also plans to emphasize how the Internet can be a positive place for people, including 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 planned to say in his prepared remarks. “Overall, teens tell us it's a positive part of their lives.”

An improvement was made on

January 31, 2024

,

An earlier version of this article incorrectly described a proposal to add 45 staff members to Meta. That's less than 1 percent of Meta's total workforce, not less than 1 percent.

How do we handle corrections

https://static01.nyt.com/images/2024/01/31/multimedia/31META-SAFETY-sub-cphv/31META-SAFETY-sub-cphv-facebookJumbo.jpg

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