‘Mark Zuckerberg has to bear some blame for youth suicide deaths’

Jonathan Haidt discusses Mark Zuckerberg on the Brave New World podcast  ( ES Composite)
Jonathan Haidt discusses Mark Zuckerberg on the Brave New World podcast ( ES Composite)

Mark Zuckerberg bears “some personal responsibility” for the suicides of young people who saw harmful content online, a leading author has claimed.

Jonathan Haidt, whose book The Anxious Generation sets out the harm social media and smartphones are doing to children, said the Facebook founder had not done enough to protect children.

Interviewed by Evening Standard proprietor Evgeny Lebedev on the Brave New World podcast in a special episode out on Thursdy, Mr Haidt said Mr Zuckerberg “could do and should have done a lot more to protect kids”.

It comes after Lotte Rubæk, a psychologist who advised Meta on suicide prevention and self harm, resigned and accused the tech giant of turning a blind eye to harmful content on Instagram.

Ms Rubæk said Meta’s failure to remove images of self harm from its platforms was “triggering” vulnerable young women and girls to further harm themselves and contributing to rising suicide figures. Asked if Mr Zuckerberg had “blood on his hands”, Mr Haidt told the Brave New World podcast: “I don’t want to comment on that exact metaphor, but does Mark Zuckerberg deserve some blame for some of these suicide deaths? I think the answer is yes.”

He said that tech firms did not intend to “hurt kids”, adding: “I know a lot of people who worked at Facebook and Google and these other companies, and they were idealistic people who thought they were making the world better.”

But he added: “The reason I think Zuckerberg does bear some personal responsibility is there were many internal warnings, many … said, ‘We are causing problems, we are addicting kids.’ They suggested features that would help and Facebook, Meta, Instagram, they never did any of them unless they were trivial. They never did anything that reduced their user base, like actually kicking off kids who were under 13.”

In the episode, Haidt also tackles the culture of safetyism on college campuses and suggests stoicism could help reframe our mindsets and promote intellectual curiosity. “It’s the antidote [to] the safetyism and the microaggressions and the trigger warnings and all that stuff we’ve invented at American universities,” he says.