Why did Mark Zuckerberg have to apologize? Who is ultimately responsible for the addiction to social networks and the illicit behaviors that are occurring due to the lack of regulation?
In 2017, TV host Bill Maher made a comment that I find iconic: Tech moguls should stop pretending that they are friendly nerds building a better world and should recognize that they are the equivalent of tobacco farmers, only with t-shirts, but they sell a highly addictive product for minors.
He closed with a memorable phrase: Checking likes on social networks is the new way to smoke. So the appearance that occurred, on February 1, before the US Senate Judiciary Committee, frankly, had already been overdue.
It has been seven years since Maher made his comments and in which digital sexual violence against minors that has even led to suicides would have been prevented. However, the responsibility is shared. Why blame Zuckerberg alone?
In any case, innovation and technology would not have full responsibility. Also the other actors involved: authorities, schools, parents and caregivers.
The founder of Facebook and Shou Chew, CEO of TikTok, voluntarily appeared at that February 1 session before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The heads of Snap Incorporated (Evan Spiegel), X before Twitter (Linda Yaccarino), Discord Incorporated (Jason Citron) had to receive a subpoena.
Of the five appearing, all five are parents, so they referred to the fact that, as with other technology tools, there are people who exploit and abuse their platforms for immoral and illegal purposes.
One of the applications most susceptible to being misused is Snapchat. Its co-founder, Evan Spiegel (33 years old), explained that he designed it when he was 20 years old as an alternative to traditional social networks that use permanent images that are rated with a “like.” That’s why photos and videos in that app only last seconds and then are permanently deleted.
It is precisely the ethereal nature of these messages that pedophiles use to send inappropriate images to their victims. Spiegel also spoke as the father of a teenager and, like his counterpart, reiterated that his social networks should not be used by children under 13 years of age.
Tobacco workers with t-shirts?
“I want to recognize those who are here today who have lost a loved one or have gone through terrible things that no family should have to endure,” commented Zuckerberg, during his opening speech. Phrase that he repeated in his apology to the parents of victims, after Senator Josh Hawley practically forced him to apologize.
The senators presented compelling data. Although managers argue that they spend millions of dollars to understand the psychology of minors to protect them, legislators emphasized that they use this information to create products that continue to engage new generations.
Senator Blackburn showed internal documents from the Meta company, where each teenage user is valued at $270 (4,600 Mexican pesos). This amount is calculated based on the advertisements that minors will consume. However, it is dramatic to think that for that amount several have lost their lives.
Another of the most shocking data was presented by Texas Senator Ted Cruz regarding searches with the keywords “images of child sexual abuse.”
The senator showed a gigantography of a legend that he displayed on Instagram, in response to a search of that nature: “Child sexual abuse or viewing sexual images of children can lead to prison and other serious personal consequences. This (child) abuse causes extreme harm to children and seeking out or viewing such material increases that harm. For confidential help or to learn how to report inappropriate content, visit the Help Center.”
The Texan legislator’s main question towards Zuckerberg was that this legend only gives the user two options: go to help or see the results. Cruz confronted Meta’s CEO to commit to providing accurate information on how many times this legend has been displayed on the platform and how many people chose the second option, despite the warning.
Zuckerberg argued that this information supported the reports that his company delivers to the authorities to carry out investigations that lead to the arrest of possible attackers.
Although the owner of Instagram tried to respond, in almost 3 hours of appearance, it was difficult to cover what, in his turn, Senator Lindsey Graham summarized in: “You and the companies before us, and I don’t want to say that it was your intention, their hands are stained with blood. “They have a product that is killing people.”
It is a product that should be taken seriously by all actors involved, including parents and caregivers. Insist that the tablet or the video game are not babysitters. Emphasize that communication with minors and support in digital life are essential to contain the onslaught that technology means in our lives.
*Delia Angélica Ortiz is a journalist specialized in inclusion and diversity.
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