Keeping kids safe: Parents, activists gather in Brooklyn over social media epidemic

Jim Dolan Image
Thursday, February 1, 2024
Parents voice concern over social media epidemic
Jim Dolan is in Brooklyn with the story.

BROOKLYN, New York (WABC) -- A mental health crisis sparked by social media took center stage Wednesday on Capitol Hill, but also in New York City, where a concerned community gathered to focus on solutions to the epidemic.

In a modest room in Brooklyn, concerned parents and activists gathered to talk about the corrosive and sometimes deadly impact of social media on teens.

"I'm up here as a survivor who almost took my own life nine years ago," Larissa May said.

She now works with teens in crisis.

"On TikTok, there are choking challenges that kids are doing, killing themselves, not even because they want to, but they're killing themselves because they want to get into an algorithm," May said.

It was the same subject taken up on Capitol Hill Wednesday, with the leaders of Facebook and other social media sites getting grilled by Republicans and Democrats.

"They're responsible for many of the dangers our children face online," Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, who chairs the committee, said in opening remarks. "Their design choices, their failures to adequately invest in trust and safety, their constant pursuit of engagement and profit over basic safety have all put our kids and grandkids at risk."

South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham, the top Republican on the Judiciary panel, echoed Durbin's sentiments and said he's prepared to work with Democrats to solve the issue.

"After years of working on this issue with you and others, I've come to conclude the following: Social media companies as they're currently designed and operate are dangerous products," Graham said.

In the gallery, parents of children who died from suicide because of bullying or sexual extortion on social media held up their pictures.

In a heated question and answer session with Mark Zuckerberg, Republican Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley asked the Meta CEO if he has personally compensated any of the victims and their families for what they have been through.

"I don't think so," Zuckerberg replied.

"There's families of victims here," Hawley said. "Would you like to apologize to them?"

Zuckerberg stood, turned away from his microphone and the senators, and directly addressed the parents in the gallery.

"I'm sorry for everything you have all been through. No one should go through the things that your families have suffered," he said, adding that Meta continues to invest and work on "industrywide efforts" to protect children.

There are bills pending in Albany that would try to eliminate the profit motive for social media sites to target children, and there is optimism that will pass. But in Washington, the last time Congress passed a bill related to social media content was 1998.


* More Brooklyn news

* Send us a news tip

* Download the abc7NY app for breaking news alerts

* Follow us on YouTube

Submit a tip or story idea to Eyewitness News

Have a breaking news tip or an idea for a story we should cover? Send it to Eyewitness News using the form below. If attaching a video or photo, terms of use apply.