This week, lawmakers grilled the CEOs of five social media companies on Capitol Hill. They answered tough questions, while also coming face-to-face with parents who say their children were harmed, or died, as a result of online exploitation, harassment, and bullying on their sites.
One mother, formerly from Bettendorf, knows this pain all too well. Christine Schmidt shared her story with Our Quad Cities News several years after losing her daughter Morgan, to suicide.
Schmidt (who now lives in Dubuque) lost her daughter in 2014, when she was only 12 years old. She says at the time of her daughter’s death, she had seen a Facebook post indicating a crisis relating to her daughter.
With CEOs of social media apps like Facebook taking the stand this past Wednesday, Jan. 31, Schmidt said she wants the federal government to get involved, so other families don’t have to go through the same heartbreak she had to endure.
“In that moment, I don’t think the apology was sincere,” Schmidt said, reflecting on the apology that CEO of Meta, Mark Zuckerberg, gave families in attendance of the hearing on Capitol Hill.
“You could say it wasn’t his idea. It just happened in that moment, kind of like are you sorry? Say you’re sorry,” she said.
On Wednesday, 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.
Schmidt says the federal government needs to step in to regulate social media companies.
“I feel like the only way that these companies are going to change is when the government gets involved,” she said. “And they make them come up with these safeguards.” Safeguards should be put in place that protect underage children from using social media apps, and fight against online harassment.
“I absolutely believe that the technology exists for these companies to figure out a way to protect these kids,” Schmidt said. “They want to protect the integrity of their site, in regards to privacy, and little to no censorship. We can all appreciate that. But, at the end of the day, they have a moral obligation to help us protect these kids. Whatever that might be.”
Schmidt says parents need to be involved with this issue as well. “I don’t expect a social media company or the teachers at school to parent my kids,” she said. “That’s my job. My job is to take care of my children to the best of my ability.”
Schmidt has seen the other side of the argument, that parents should be better parents. That argument does not discourage her. “Most parents, we do the very best we can every single day,” Schmidt said. “None of us get it right all the time.”
She told Our Quad Cities News that she is empowered to make a change for her 12-year-old daughter who she lost.