During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on efforts to stop sexual abuse content on social media, Senator Ted Cruz grilled Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg over reports on the spread of such content on Meta platform Instagram.
Cruz noted a June 2023 report from the Wall Street Journal in which the outlet revealed that Instagram’s algorithm system was "actively connecting pedophiles to accounts that were advertising the sale of child sexual abuse material," using accounts that look to be run by underage children and code words and emojis to advertise illicit materials.
"I know that Instagram has a team that works to prevent the abuse and exploitation of children online. But what was particularly concerning about the Wall Street Journal expose was the degree to which Instagram’s own algorithm was promoting the discoverability of victims for pedophiles seeking child abuse material," he said.
Cruz displayed a poster of the warning message users are greeted with if they search for child abuse material on Instagram, which read, "these results may contain images of child sexual abuse."
Users are given two options: get resources or "see results anyways."
"Mr. Zuckerberg, what the hell were you thinking?" Cruz asked.
Zuckerberg attempted to say that the "science" behind the decision "is that when people are searching for something that is problematic, it's often helpful to, rather than just blocking it to help direct them towards something that could be helpful for getting them to get help."
"In what sane universe is there a link for see results anyway?" Cruz demanded to know.
Zuckerberg said this was because "we might be wrong" in triggering the warning.
Cruz demanded to know how many times the warning screen was displayed, but Zuckerberg said he didn’t know off the top of his head. Cruz noted that in a June 2023 oversight letter to Meta, the company refused to answer the same question.
Cruz asked whether Zuckerberg would answer that question within five days, to which Zuckerberg said "we will follow up on that."
"Is that a yes? Not a 'will follow up.' I know how lawyers write statements, saying we're not going to answer. Will you tell us how many times this warning screen was displayed? Yes or no?"
Zuckerberg responded that he would personally look into the matter, to which Cruz said "okay, so you’re refusing to answer."
"Let me ask you this. How many times did an Instagram user who got this warning that you're seeing images of child sexual abuse, how many times did that user click on see results anyway, I want to see that," Cruz asked.
Zuckerberg said he wasn’t sure if the company stored that data, but he would look into it.
"Mr. Zuckerberg, your companies and every social media company needs to do much more to protect children," Cruz later added.
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