Meta failed to address harm to teens, whistleblower testifies as Senators vow action

Meta is a company that encourages a culture of "see no evil, hear no evil," former company engineer Arturo Bejar said on Tuesday.

He was testifying in front of a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing centered on how algorithms for Facebook and Instagram (both owned by parent company Meta) push content to teens that promotes bullying, drug abuse, eating disorders and self-harm.

Bejar's job at the company was to protect the social media site's users. He said that when he raised the flag about teen harm to Meta's top executives, they failed to act.

"I observed new features being developed in response to public outcry, which were, in reality, kind of a placebo," Bejar said during his testimony. "A safety feature in name only to placate the press and regulators."

Bejar is the latest Facebook whistleblower to supply congress with internal documents that show Meta knows kids are being harmed by its products. His testimony comes after The Wall Street Journal reported on his claims last week. Lawmakers have now heard testimony from dozens of kids, parents and even company executives on the topic. And it seems to have reached a boiling point.

"We can no longer rely on social media's mantra, 'Trust us,'" Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said on Tuesday. "My hope is that we will move forward so that, in fact, we can make Big Tech the next Big Tobacco in terms of a concerted effort to reduce its harm and inform the public."

During the two-and-a-half-hour hearing, several senators vowed to pass legislation regulating social media this year.

"Before the end of this calendar year, I will go to the floor of the United States Senate and I will demand a vote," said Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo. "I'm tired of waiting."

Last year, Blumenthal and Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., introduced the Kids Online Safety Act, which made it out of committee with unanimous support, but didn't clear the entire Senate. In light of the new testimony from Bejar, senators in the Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law are pushing to pass the law this year.

This comes as a group of more than 40 states have filed lawsuits against Meta accusing it of designing its social media products to be addictive. The states say this has fueled the mental health crisis for teens. Their lawsuits rely on evidence from Bejar and come two years after Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen detailed similar findings in the Facebook Files.

In a statement, Meta spokeswoman Nkechi Nneji said the company has worked with parents and experts to introduce more than 30 tools to support teens. "Every day countless people inside and outside of Meta are working on how to help keep young people safe online," she said.