When cief executive officers of some of the biggest social media companies were questioned Wednesday on Capitol Hill, filling the seats behind them were parents, caregivers and loved ones of young people who they say were harmed due to social media use.
In an emotional moment during the Senate hearing, Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Meta, Facebook and Instagram's parent company, turned to the young people's loved ones and delivered an apology.
"It's terrible. No one should have to go through the things that your families have suffered," Zuckerberg said while standing and speaking directly to the families, many of whom held up large photos of their loved ones. "And this is why we invest so much and are going to continue doing industry-leading efforts to make sure that no one has to go through the things your families have had to suffer."
In addition to Zuckerberg, the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, which was intended to increase support for federal legislation to safeguard children online, also included testimony from X's Linda Yaccarino, TikTok's Shou Zi Chew, Snap's Evan Spiegel and Discord's Jason Citron.
Each of the five CEOs addressed the families in the room, giving their condolences to people whose children and loved ones died due to factors including suicide and drug overdoses.
"I'm so sorry that we have not been able to prevent these tragedies," Spiegel said to families whose children died after allegedly purchasing drugs on Snapchat, an issue over which Snap is facing a class action lawsuit.
Here are four questions answered about the hearing and online safety, as parents and caregivers try to navigate both.
1. Why was the hearing held at this time?
The hearing took place as legislators try to drum up support for federal regulation of social media companies around online safety, arguing the companies have not done enough on their own to protect kids.
The hearing also comes as experts continue to ring alarms about the impact of social media on young people.
According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, daily cyber tips of child sexual abuse material online have gone up tenfold in the past 10 years, reaching 100,000 daily reports in 2023. The FBI has said that last year alone, it received over 13,000 reports of online "sextortion."
Last year, the American Psychological Association issued first-of-its-kind recommendations intended to help teenagers use social media safely, including setting time limits, encouraging family discussions about social media and parental monitoring.
The U.S. Surgeon General last year issued an advisory warning of an urgent public health issue regarding social media usage and youth mental health.
Most social media platforms currently have a minimum user age of 13.
In his opening remarks at Wednesday's hearing, Zuckerberg pushed back on the link between social media and young people's negative mental health.
"With so much of our lives spent on mobile devices and social media, it's important to look into the effects on teen mental health and well-being. I take this very seriously," Zuckerberg said. "Mental health is a complex issue and the existing body of scientific work has not shown a causal link between using social media and young people having worse mental health outcomes."
2. Did social media CEOs and legislators reach any consensus?
In short answer, no.
Spiegel, the head of Snapchat, offered his support again on Wednesday for The Kids Online Safety Act, or KOSA bill, which aims to remove "harmful ads and posts, such as addiction, eating disorders, and suicide from showing up on children's accounts," according to supporters of the bill.
Yaccarino said X was also supportive of KOSA, but Chew, Citron and Zuckerberg didn't commit to backing the bill in its current form.
Yaccarino said she also supported the SHIELD Act, which would allow criminal prosecution of people who share others' private images online without consent, and the Stop CSAM Act, a bill to crack down on the proliferation of child sex abuse material. Asked if he supported the CSAM measure, Chew said the spirit of the bill is "in line with what we want to do" and that the company would comply if it became law.
Zuckerberg said he agrees with the "goals" in some of the handful of bills that address online safety, but not the specifics, and touted Meta's own legislative proposal instead.
Both Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin of Illinois and ranking member Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said the time for Congress to act is now.
Durbin noted Congress' role in the failure to push federal legislation forward, saying, "The tech industry alone is not to blame for the situation we're in, those of us in Congress need to look in the mirror."
Graham said Republicans are "ready to answer the call."
3. How did parents at the hearing react to the CEOs' testimony?
Sam Chapman, the father of Sammy, a 16-year-old who died in 2021 after overdosing on a fentanyl-laced pill he allegedly obtained from a person he met on Snapchat, told ABC News he felt Zuckerberg's apology was "halfhearted."
"I felt like it was a halfhearted apology ... and he didn't really apologize directly, it was sort of around the corner," Chapman told ABC News' Kyra Phillips following Wednesday's hearing.
South Carolina state Rep. Brandon Guffey, who blames Instagram for the death of his teenage son due to suicide, called Zuckerberg a "liar" after the hearing.
"Your actions speak louder than words," he told ABC News' Selina Wang, referencing Zuckerberg's apology to the families.
Another victim at the hearing, Leah Juliett, said when they were 15, they had no recourse after photos showing their naked body were "disseminated like trading cards" on Facebook Messenger and then uploaded to Facebook.
Juliett described to ABC News what it was like to be in the same room as Zuckerberg Wednesday, saying, "The man who initially exploited my body is currently incarcerated, but the man who allowed my abuse to spread on Facebook was in that hearing room with me moments ago. His name is Mark Zuckerberg."
4. What can parents and caregivers do to help keep kids safe on social media?
Diana Graber, a digital literacy expert and author of the book "Raising Humans in a Digital World," told ABC News that parents do not have to wait for legislators and social media companies to act.
"We are empowered with so many tools to keep our kids safe," Graber said. "And we can't sit back and expect technology companies to do that, because that's not why they're in business."
Graber, also the founder of Cyber Civics, a digital literacy curriculum, said her top tip for parents is to at "ground zero" with their child when it comes to social media.
"You want to be with them every step of the way, introducing them to technology that's developmentally appropriate. Do it with them, be curious with them and be excited with them," Graber said. "When they turn 13 and they join Instagram or whatever platform, they're used to having you in their world, and you can be shocked together or curious together."
She continued, "Then, if and when something bad happens ... it's normal and natural for them to talk to you about it, because you've done it with them forever."
When a child signs up for a social media platform, Graber said the child's parents or caregivers should sign up too so they can learn and explore the platform together.
Just like with other aspects of family life, Graber said parents should have emergency plans with their kids when it comes to social media too.
"If something bad happens, every kid should know what to do," Graber said, noting that social media apps have settings that allow users to block people and to report unsettling or unwanted interactions. "Go through your settings and take advantage of what the social media companies will allow you to control."
She continued, "Really teaching that to teenagers is wonderful because they want that agency, and walking them through the steps of doing that is letting them control their online experience."
ABC News' Cheyenne Haslett and Alexandra Hutzler contributed to this report.
4 takeaways for parents from the Senate grilling of social media CEOs originally appeared on goodmorningamerica.com