Judiciary, Commerce Committee Leaders Want Answers From Meta on ‘Pedophile Network’ Story

February 12, 2024

Durbin-Cruz Letter Comes After Zuckerberg Pledged To Follow Up at Judiciary Hearing

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Member Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) today sent a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, Meta Chairman, and CEO, requesting he fulfill the commitment he made at last month’s explosive Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Zuckerberg promised to “personally look into” questions from Sen. Cruz about how often Instagram’s child sexual abuse material warning screen was displayed and the number of times users presented with the screen clicked “See results anyway.” The disturbing details were revealed in a story last year in the Wall Street Journal titled, “Instagram Connects Vast Pedophile Network.”

In the letter to Mr. Zuckerberg, the Senators wrote:

“On January 31, 2024, you testified under oath before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee about the safety of children on Meta’s platforms. During that testimony, you were questioned about a seemingly now-defunct product feature on Instagram that displayed a warning screen to users who might be searching for child sexual abuse material (CSAM) on the platform. That interstitial, reproduced below, warned users that search ‘results may contain images of child sexual abuse’ and allowed users to select between ‘Get resources’ or ‘See results anyway.’

“As you know, the Wall Street Journal reported the presence of this warning screen on June 7, 2023, after it was included in a report published the previous day by researchers at the Stanford Internet Observatory. The Journal further reported that, in response to its questions, ‘Instagram removed the option for users to view search results for terms likely to produce illegal images. The company declined to say why it had offered the option.’”

The Senators asked Meta to answer the dates during which Instagram’s CSAM warning screen was displayed to users; statistics for how many times a user clicked “See results anyway;” how many accounts belonging to minors were accessed by users who clicked “See results anyway;” a full list of search terms that received this warning screen; and statistics detailing how often those terms were searched.

The letter also asks Meta to give a detailed explanation of its decision to remove the warning screen following an inquiry from the Wall Street Journal last June. To date, Meta has refused to answer this question.

In addition, the letter requests to preserve all documents and information related to the development of the warning screen, including product roadmaps.

Read the full text of the letter here

In June of last year, Sen. Cruz sent a letter to Zuckerberg demanding answers regarding the Wall Street Journal’s reporting on the CSAM warning screen and the degree to which Instagram’s recommendation systems had facilitated the discoverability of CSAM. Meta failed to respond substantively to 9 of 11 requests in Sen. Cruz’s letter, including all questions related to the warning screen.