Mother claims that social networks affected her daughter's mental health 2:38

(CNN) --

A group of top social media executives will be questioned this Wednesday by the United States Congress about the risks their products pose to young people, once again.

The CEOs of Meta, TikTok, Snap, Discord and X, formerly known as Twitter, will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee beginning at 10:00 a.m. ET.

In recent years, Congress has done very little to curb this sector, despite consumer associations saying that social media puts young people at risk of depression, bullying or sexual abuse.

But lawmakers now cite a growing series of whistleblowers, consumer lawsuits and new state laws across the country to argue that this time is different.

"We're going to work hard to get them to work," Richard Blumenthal, a Democratic senator from Connecticut, told reporters Tuesday before the hearing.

The spotlight is likely to fall primarily on Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, as the company that controls Instagram and Facebook has faced particular pressure on the issue due to its size and popularity among younger users.

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Zuckerberg is expected to highlight the company's more than 30 security controls, according to prepared testimony made public before the hearing.

However, lawmakers are likely to ask Meta to do more.

  • Dozens of states sue Meta, Instagram's parent company, for alleged "addictive" features and damage to the mental health of young people

Each of the CEOs is expected to defend their youth safety efforts and point out features and policies their companies have implemented in recent years, including, in some cases, updates introduced in the weeks leading up to the hearing. .

TikTok and X, for example, noted their recent efforts to combat child sexual exploitation on their platforms in statements prior to the hearing.

Snap CEO Evan Spiegel will also argue that Snapchat is different from other social platforms like Instagram and TikTok because the majority of its users are not there to consume content promoted by an algorithmic feed, according to prepared testimony published Wednesday by the tomorrow.

Lawmakers say the longer platforms take to make significant changes, the greater the damage and toll.

"We had no idea the damage they could cause"

One of the victims of social media is Rosemarie Calvoni, a woman who sued Meta and other social media companies over her daughter's struggle with anorexia.

Calvoni blames Meta for sending her daughter down a rabbit hole of eating disorder content, leading to inpatient treatment and multiple relapses that have caused her to miss "most of high school."

"When these platforms were first launched, we had no idea the damage they could cause, not only to my daughter, but to our family as a unit," Calvoni told reporters in a call Tuesday.

Last year, Facebook whistleblower Arturo Béjar made public to US lawmakers that Meta and other executives had ignored his research, which found, among other things, that more than 25% of young people between 13 and 15 years had reported receiving unwanted sexual advances on Instagram.

  • Meta collected data from minors on Instagram without their parents' consent

Since then, Meta said it offers tools for users to personalize their experiences on the company's platforms and has proposed federal legislation requiring app stores to verify the age of their users.

In recent weeks, Meta has also started hiding more "age-inappropriate" content in teens' feeds and restricting them from receiving direct messages from people they don't follow.

The CEOs of five big technology companies will testify this Wednesday at a Senate committee hearing on the impact of their social networks on teenagers.

(Credit: Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

New Meta documents question Zuckerberg's responsibility

Top Meta executives attempted to sound the alarm internally about Instagram and Facebook's handling of child safety in 2021, according to new documents released Wednesday by Blumenthal and Marsha Blackburn, a Republican senator from Tennessee.

The new communications include warnings to Zuckerberg that "we are not on the right track" and that the company faces "increased regulatory risk" due to underinvestment in user security.

The matter could culminate in a public relations disaster and harm Meta's future metaverse ambitions, executives warned, if the company does not urgently hire dozens of new employees to meet the challenge.

Meta provided the documents to lawmakers in response to previous requests for information.

However, two years after the warnings, Zuckerberg has fired thousands of workers, including staff dedicated to user well-being.

And his company faces a growing wave of litigation and regulation on a global scale.

The newly released communications provide some of the most specific and direct evidence to date suggesting that Zuckerberg ignored or rejected the efforts of senior company officials - including then-chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and president of global affairs Nick Clegg. to invest more in the mental health of Meta users.

Although aspects of Meta's 2021 email exchanges have already been described in a lawsuit filed by the state of Massachusetts against the company, Wednesday's publication included copies of some of the correspondence.

They detail how some members of Meta described the matter as an imminent risk for the company.

In an August 2021 email, Clegg - presenting a proposal developed by Meta's health chief and other vice presidents - told Zuckerberg that a growing number of policymakers around the world had "publicly and privately" expressed concern about the possible effects of Facebook and Instagram on the mental health of adolescents.

Clegg and other executives called for hiring at least 45 new employees in 2022 to address security issues, some of whom would form a team dedicated to wellness across the company's applications.

Ideally, Clegg said, Zuckerberg would authorize up to 124 new hires, but he acknowledged that financial pressures could make that difficult.

After months of silence from Zuckerberg, Clegg tried to follow up, this time with a smaller proposal that contemplated 25 new hires or, if that was unviable, only seven.

Clegg wrote to Zuckerberg on November 10, 2021: "This would be the minimum necessary to answer policymakers' basic questions."

Shortly after, Sandberg told Clegg: "I'm in favor of this and will follow up on it."

But he also tried to manage his expectations, adding that "as you know, we have general budget problems across the board, so there are no promises about what will happen."

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