A small miracle has happened. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has apologized for the mental problems that social media can cause, especially among young people. In any case, it is quite unique that he does not take his hands off anything at all, but rather takes responsibility. After all, he has said for years that Facebook is just the marketplace, and that he is not responsible for what people decide to say or do on that marketplace. He now acknowledges that his market square does have some obstacles here and there.
Zuck says sorry
Especially for young people, because that is what matters now. Zuckerberg did not do that on his own: he did it because he was in a hearing at the US Senate, something he often does as the most powerful man in social media. The hearing took place because the White House wanted to discuss the harmful impact social media such as Instagram, Snap, TikTok and X have on young people. This turns out to be harmful, causing Zuckerberg to apologize to the parents of those children.
After all, as caregivers, parents have the responsibility to support their children and if, for example, those children become depressed or worse because of social media, or, for example, post nude videos of themselves just to get attention, then they have to deal with that. The apology did not come completely spontaneously: a senator asked whether Zuckerberg would like to apologize to the victims of the services Meta offers. You can indeed call it that: people can be victims of Instagram. That is certainly what the families in the stands in the room will think: they were there and heard Zuckerberg turn to them and say: “I’m sorry for what you’ve been through. We are investing enormously to ensure that this does not have to happen to anyone again.”
Great pardon or compassion?
These are carefully chosen words, which actually leave it unclear whether Zuck actually apologizes for his services or merely expresses his condolences. After all, if you hear someone say in English that, for example, his grandfather has died, you also say “I am sorry”. So it wasn’t some kind of big pardon from the man, but it is a lot closer to recognition than these people have ever come. Saying that a lot is being invested to combat these mental problems is also an interesting comment: after all, algorithms have also made it possible to show certain posts more, for example.
Now, for example, if you look for anorexia, something is done to combat it, but we all know that young people are very smart when they want something and workarounds are often found. Although that is certainly not something that social media companies can always do something about, we cannot really say that Meta – especially in the early years – really stood up for mental health.
Mental health of young people
Fortunately, this has been improving in recent years, but Zuckerberg does not and never has ever said out loud that Instagram contributes to poor mental health among young people. For example, it was not the intention at all that the internal data about mental health floating around Facebook became public: it has long known what negative influence the platform has on the mental health of young people. The White House also emphasized the negative consequences: addiction, cyberbullying, blackmail, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
At one point, Zuckerberg was even accused of saying his products are killing people. However, it then immediately turned to money, because the senator thought that Zuckerberg, as a multi-billionaire, should personally commit himself to the victims and set up a fund with the money he earned on the backs of young people. Before that rant, Zuckerberg merely suggested that Meta is leading the way with user safety tools. But his response to the senator’s demand was that his job is to build good tools and made no promises on this matter.
And that’s a shame. Although money certainly does not solve everything and it is indeed good if money is invested in making tools, such a fund would mainly have an important signaling function. This would show Zuck that he recognizes that his platforms can do a lot of good as well as a lot of harm. It just doesn’t seem like that will ever happen, because he appears to be going back to that market square vision of his. He only makes the technology available, but what people do with it is none of his business.
We just think that this hearing could cost him dearly, and perhaps not even directly in money, but in perception. At the same time, we have seen him make serious mistakes with Facebook more often, and people continue to use it. The man knows that he has power, but at the same time remains unwilling to take full responsibility for it.