Analysis | Senators say Meta’s Zuckerberg is slow-walking child safety inquiries – The Washington Post

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Below: Consumer advocates push the Senate for AI protections, and Meta’s Oversight Board tackles the war in Gaza. First:

Senators say Meta’s Zuckerberg is slow-walking child safety inquiries

Senators are accusing Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg of stonewalling hundreds of their questions after the mogul testified at a blockbuster hearing earlier this year about concerns that major tech companies are failing to adequately protect children online.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee hammered Zuckerberg and the CEOs of TikTok, Snap, Discord and X over those allegations during the nearly four hour-long session in January. 

But it was Zuckerberg who appeared to get the brunt of the criticism, at one point being pressured to apologize to families in the hearing room whose children experienced harm on social media.

Now lawmakers say Zuckerberg and Meta are failing to take their follow-up questions seriously as they continue to investigate how digital platforms may exacerbate the spread of child-abuse material online.

The panel on Monday released hundreds of pages of written responses from the companies to additional lawmaker inquiries — a common post-hearing practice on Capitol Hill. But lawmakers took exception to the 35-page reply from Meta, which they said had not been fully forthright. 

Josh Sorbe, a Senate Judiciary spokesman, said that while the committee gave Zuckerberg “multiple extensions” to respond after the session, the chief executive “answered only a small fraction of members’ questions” six weeks after receiving them — less than 10 percent. 

“His lack of urgency in responding to members’ questions proves yet again that neither he nor his company is committed to protecting children online,” Sorbe said. “It is more important than ever for the Senate to pass our kids’ online safety bills and finally hold Big Tech accountable.”

“We are working diligently to answer the over 500 questions for the record we received after the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing,” responded Meta spokesman Andy Stone.

Meta wrote in its submission that “due to the voluminous number of requests,” it would provide responses “on a rolling basis.” Stone said that they would answer outstanding inquiries. 

The pace is also causing concern. While Discord, Snap and TikTok were given extensions until late February or early March, Meta was given the most time of any to reply, the panel said. The committee declined to say what percentage of questions the other companies responded to. 

While the focus of the hearing was child abuse online, senators’ follow-up questions ran the gamut — at times veering into partisan feuds over misinformation.

In addition to pressing Meta on its efforts to stamp out sexual extortion of minors and other child safety issues, members questioned the company about its handling of covid-19 misinformation, content about the war in Gaza and the Hunter Biden laptop controversy.

While Meta faced much of the backlash during the hearing and is now drawing Senate Judiciary’s ire months later, Zuckerberg was one of only two CEOs to appear voluntarily, along with TikTok’s Shou Zi Chew. It was Zuckerberg’s eighth time testifying before Congress, and Chew’s second. 

Snap’s Evan Spiegel, X’s Linda Yaccarino and Discord’s Jason Citron all appeared only after receiving subpoenas from the committee, which not only accused them of failing to cooperate with its oversight efforts but also said it had to enlist the U.S. Marshals Service to reach some of them. 

[This has been updated and clarified to note that the U.S. Marshals Service was enlisted for some, not all, of the executives under subpoena.] 

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Consumer advocates push for AI protections in Senate package

A group of left-leaning consumer advocacy, labor and civil rights groups is calling on Senate leaders to include sweeping legal protections in an expected legislative plan on artificial intelligence, according to a letter shared with The Technology 202

The groups urged Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and his bipartisan AI working group on Monday to include “comprehensive guardrails, protections for workers, respect for civil rights/liberties, and measures addressing elections and misinformation issues in your forthcoming legislative package.” 

The missive comes as groups anticipate the potential release of a white paper or legislative framework fully laying out how Senate leaders plan to tackle the surging technology. Advocates are mobilizing amid concern that those issues could get short shrift in the negotiations. 

“The massive potential of AI is clear, but so are its risks. From the very first AI Insight Forums, Leader Schumer has made sure Congress approach[es] AI policy in way that centers civil rights, election integrity, explainability, and workers’ protection. Schumer remains focused on advancing policy that promotes sustainable AI innovation and adoption,” Schumer spokeswoman Allison Biasotti said.

The letter calls for the inclusion of “workforce development programs,” “provisions that prevent discriminatory practices in AI” and “transparency measures to secure election systems.”

“While we have been thrilled to see a serious process to grapple with AI proceeding in the Senate, we remain hypervigilant to ensure that enforceable guardrails and comprehensive worker and consumer protections are central elements of any federal AI policy,” said Lisa Gilbert, executive vice president of the consumer group Public Citizen. 

Oversight Board urges Meta to loosen speech rules about terrorists amid Israel-Gaza war

Meta’s Oversight Board on Tuesday called on the social media giant to loosen its rules on posts about terrorists and dangerous organizations, adding to the chorus of advocates urging the company to protect free expression during the Israel-Gaza war, Naomi Nix reports for The Technology 202.

The company-funded board said Meta should eliminate its blanket ban on the Arabic word “shaheed,” which is often translated as “martyr” when referring to terrorists. Instead, the Oversight Board argued Meta should only ban uses of the word when it’s coupled with violent content or breaks other company rules.

A Meta spokesperson said in a statement the company was reviewing the policy guidance, adding that “we want people to be able to use our platforms to share their views, and have a set of policies to help them do so safely.”

The Oversight Board, a group of academics, experts and lawyers who oversee Meta’s content moderation decisions, said the company’s current policy could suppress journalism and public discourse in regions plagued by violent conflict. 

In recent months, digital rights activists and pro-Palestinian groups have argued that the company’s content moderation systems have unfairly squashed legitimate political critiques of the Israeli government during a catastrophic war.

“This blunt method is doing more harm than good. It can even lead to those speaking about deceased loved ones having their content taken down in error,” Oversight Board co-chair Helle Thorning-Schmidt wrote in a statement. 

Government scanner

Florida latest to restrict social media for kids as legal battle looms (By María Luisa Paúl and Cristiano Lima-Strong)

Mitre opens lab to test U.S. government’s artificial intelligence (Bloomberg)

Inside the industry

Trump Media stock to begin public trading on Tuesday (By Drew Harwell)

Musk tried to ‘punish’ critics, judge rules, in tossing a lawsuit (By Will Oremus and Taylor Telford)

Big brands could pivot easily if TikTok goes away. For many small businesses, it’s another story (Associated Press)

Competition watch

E.U. probes Google, Apple, Meta under its new competition law (By Eva Dou)

Qualcomm ends Autotalks deal over antitrust concerns, FTC says (Bloomberg)

Privacy monitor

U.S., Britain sanction China for broad 14-year hacking campaign (By Ellen Nakashima)

Gen Z embraces side hustles because ‘loyalty is dead’ (By Danielle Abril)

  • The Atlantic Council hosts an event, “A conversation with European Commission Vice President Věra Jourová,” moderated by our colleague Cat Zakrzewski and featuring remarks from Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tuesday at 2 p.m.
  • The Federal Communications Commission hosts an event, “Communications Equity and Diversity Council Meeting,” Wednesday at 10 a.m.
  • The R Street think tank hosts an event, “Making 2024 the Year We Secure American Data,” Wednesday at 2 p.m.

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