Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg was forced into a "mealy-mouthed apology" during last month’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing because he couldn’t jeopardize an ongoing federal case, making the viral moment a colossal waste of time, according to a legal guru.
"It achieved nothing," attorney Danny Karon told Fox News Digital.
"Remember, there's a humongous federal case going… with all the state’s attorneys general against Meta for a couple of things. One, injunctive relief -- stop doing what you're doing, the endless scroll and all this stuff to bring kids in and to hook kids," Karon continued. "And two, money damages – dollars per click, per scroll, per whatever."
Indeed, a 228-page complaint filed in October in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California claims that Meta’s business model specifically targets young users, monetizing their attention through data harvesting and targeting advertising and deploying features to prolong their time on social media for profit. The lawsuit alleges Meta "misled its users and the public by boasting a low prevalence of harmful content," while being "keenly aware" its platforms' features "cause young users significant physical and mental harm."
Meta is currently moving to dismiss the lawsuit. But in the meantime, Zuckerberg was among the Big Tech leaders who appeared during a marathon Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last month, facing questions over the future of the industry’s regulation related to combating online child sexual exploitation. Karon felt it was simply an opportunity for lawmakers to appeal to their bases, since everyone wants to protect children.
At one point as he was grilled by Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., Zuckerberg stood from his seat and spoke directly to the audience of families of victims who were allegedly harmed by content on social media platforms.
"I’m sorry for everything you’ve all been through," Zuckerberg said. "No one should have to go through the things that your families suffered."
Zuckerberg added that his company will continue investing in efforts to protect users: "This is why we’ve invested so much … and will continue through industry-leading efforts to make sure that no [one has] to go through what your families have had to suffer."
Karon, an attorney and law professor who specializes in class-action litigation, called it a lose-lose situation because Hawley essentially coaxed the high-powered tech mogul into it.
"Had he done nothing, he loses. Had he offered this mealy-mouthed apology, which you did, he loses. But the thing is, that's all that was ever going to come from it. Because Josh Hawley knew," Karon said. "He absolutely knew that Mark Zuckerberg wasn't going to fall on his sword and offer any sort of real apology, any sort of admissible evidence in the San Francisco federal case. No way. It was a sound bite. It was a media grab."
Karon said Zuckerberg noted that anything the Meta honcho uttered would have been used against him in the federal case as comment made in the Senate chamber are admissible under rule 804 of the Federal Rules of Evidence.
"The last thing, the absolute last thing Mark Zuckerberg is going to do is admit to anything," Karon said.
"His lawyers absolutely told him, ‘Don't admit anything,’ and he couldn't say ‘no’ because then he looks black-hearted, which I don't think he is," Karon continued. "He’s caught somewhere in the middle, and did kind of a middle dance, and got the heck out of there as quickly as he could."
Meta has insisted it is commited to providing a safe platform to teenagers.
"We share the attorneys general’s commitment to providing teens with safe, positive experiences online, and have already introduced over 30 tools to support teens and their families. We’re disappointed that instead of working productively with companies across the industry to create clear, age-appropriate standards for the many apps teens use, the attorneys general have chosen this path," a Meta spokesperson previously told Fox News Digital.
Meta declined a request for comment.
Fox News Digital’s Brianna Herlihy contributed to this report.