Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Thursday compared Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg to the nation’s largest tobacco companies’ executives, who testified before Congress in 1994 that they did not believe tobacco was addictive.
In an interview on “CNN This Morning,” Durbin said Zuckerberg made an “outrageous statement” during the Wednesday hearing when he suggested there was no causal link between social media use and negative mental health effects.
“It harkens me back to a moment in history in Congress, when the tobacco executives came before us and, under oath, swore that nicotine was not addictive, and their product was not killing people,” Durbin said when asked to respond to a clip of Zuckerberg’s testimony.
“That was an outrageous statement by Mr. Zuckerberg, and a man who has the resources that he has, and the advisers he had, should never [have] said anything like that,” Durbin continued.
Durbin was responding to Zuckerberg, who said in his opening statement Wednesday, “Mental health is a complex issue, and the existing body of scientific work has not shown a causal link between using social media and young people having worse mental health outcomes.”
The harmful effects of social media on youth mental health was a key focus of the hearing Wednesday when senators lobbed questions at chief executives of major social media companies to explain policies they have in place to mitigate risks of sexual exploitation online and reduce the spread of harmful content that promotes suicide ideation, self-harm and eating disorders.
Parents and advocates filled the hearing room, holding up photos of victims in an effort to put pressure on both the companies and the senators to take action to hold the companies accountable and protect children.
U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has made youth mental health a priority and has previously said there is a likely link between social media and negative mental health outcomes.
“We are in the middle of a national youth mental health crisis, and I am concerned that social media is an important driver of that crisis — one that we must urgently address,” Murthy said in an advisory in May 2023.