Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg made his debut in front of Congressional lawmakers Tuesday to answer questions about his social media empire handles over 2.2 billion users privacy data. He was also questioned about his company’s role in the Russian meddling with the 2016 election.
Zuckerberg, 33, faced quite the load of questions and grilling from 44 senators who made sure to make the most of their allotted five minutes.
On Monday, he released his full testimony in advance.
One of the more bizarre sites for Zuckerberg had to be facing the 100 life-sized cutouts of himself planted on the Capitol lawn. They were there as part of an activist campaign hoping to stop the spread of misinformation on social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter.
Below are the key takeaways from his testimony:
Zuckerberg told lawmakers, he’s sorry and wisely took full responsibility. Although Facebook has been a powerful vehicle for powerful social movements like #MeToo and March For Our Lives and has helped to raise relief funds in the wake of disasters like Hurricane Harvey, Zuckerberg said, “it’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm, as well. That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy.”
Zuckerberg took responsibility for what happened with Cambridge Analytica — the British political consulting firm that collected the personal information of more than 80 million Facebook users and used it to influence voter opinions — and acknowledged his company’s shortcomings in its response.
“We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake,” he added. “It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.”
“It will take some time to work through all of the changes we need to make,” he added, “but I’m committed to getting it right.”
He said his company had been contacted by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. He first said that Facebook had been issued subpoenas related to the probe, then walked it back, saying that there might have been subpoenas, but he was not sure. He said that employees of Facebook had been interviewed by Mueller’s team but that he personally had not.
Facebook will be looking into “tens of thousands” of apps to determine whether there’s been improper use of data, Zuckerberg explained.
“We believe that we’re going to be investigating many apps — tens of thousands of apps — and if we find any suspicious activity, we’re going to conduct a full audit of those apps to understand how they’re using their data if they’re doing anything improper,” he said, in response to a question from Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley. “And if we find that they’re doing anything improper, we’ll ban them from Facebook, and we will tell everyone affected.”
The company should have informed the 87 million users whose data was hijacked by Cambridge Analytica, instead of simply asking the firm and the app developer to delete the personal information, Zuckerberg said. Facebook also didn’t notify the Federal Trade Commission in 2015 following its discovery of the breach. “We considered it a closed case,” he told lawmakers. “In retrospect, that was clearly a mistake. We shouldn’t have taken their word for it.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) accused Zuckerberg of “willful blindness” in his handling of the Cambridge Analytical scandal, and said the company violated its 2011 consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission regarding user privacy. “It was heedless and reckless,” Blumenthal scolded the CEO. The senator also said he didn’t buy Zuckerberg’s most recent displays of contrition before Congress and the committee.
“We’ve seen the apology tours before. You have refused to acknowledge even an ethical violation,” Blumenthal said. “My reservation about your testimony today is that I don’t see how you can change your business model unless there are specific rules of the road.” And those rules have to be “the result of congressional action,” Blumenthal said.
Facebook is more responsible with users’ data than the federal government would be, Zuckerberg told Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) when asked about the social network’s hesitancy to provide personal information to the U.S. intelligence community. He also said he wouldn’t call himself or his company a victim — but said the 87 million users at the center of Facebook’s privacy controversy deserved that label. “Yes, they did not want their information to be sold to Cambridge Analytica by a developer,” Zuckerberg said. “That happened. And it happened on our watch.”
Making sure no one uses Facebook to interfere in various countries’ elections in 2018 is “the most important thing that I care about right now,” Zuckerberg said. But “as long as there are people who are sitting in Russia whose job it is to interfere with elections around the world,” he said, he couldn’t guarantee that meddling actors had been completely purged from the platform. In an attempt to confront this “ongoing conflict,” Zuckerberg said, Facebook will begin ensuring that purchasers of political ads in American elections have valid U.S. government identities. Facebook will also start verifying their locations.
Is Facebook a tech company or a publisher? Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) asked Zuckerberg whether he considered his company to be a tech giant or a publisher, noting that the answer to this question would frame the sort of regulation to which Facebook would be subjected.
“I view us as a tech company because we build technology and product,” Zuckerberg said. And while Facebook does publish content, as Sullivan noted, the platform does not, itself, produce the content. “When people ask us if we’re a media company or a publisher, my understanding is — what the heart of what they’re really getting at is — do we feel responsibility for the content on our platform?” he added. “The answer to that, I think, is clearly yes, but I don’t think that’s incompatible with fundamentally, at our core, being a technology company where the main thing we do is have engineers and build products.”
Zuckerberg tossed out a few broad suggestions for government oversight of Facebook and other social media that have historically dodged federal regulation. He suggested “a simple and practical set of ways that you explain what you are doing with data” — in other words, requirements to simplify the lengthy privacy agreement documents that users typically agree to without reading.
Zuckerberg also floated the idea of legislation enabling American tech firms to continue “enabling innovation” so as not to fall behind Chinese competitors. It’s important that Facebook be allowed to continue experimenting with facial recognition and other services that draw upon sensitive, identifiable information, he said.
Zuckerberg also said he would not be opposed to a new rule mandating that Facebook notify users within 72 hours of their data being breached. “That makes sense to me,” he said.
Facebook has no clear-cut definition for hate speech, Zuckerberg said, failing to assuage conservative lawmakers’ fears that the social network would eventually clamp down on users’ First Amendment rights. “You used language of safety and protection earlier. We see this happening on college campuses all over the country. … It’s dangerous,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said. “Can you imagine a world where you might imagine that pro-lifers are prohibited from speaking about their abortion views on your platform?”
Facebook wouldn’t qualify those particular comments as hate speech, Zuckerberg said, but he acknowledged that the controversy surrounding types of speech is a “question that we need to struggle with as a country.”
Zuckerberg wouldn’t commit to calling Facebook a “neutral public forum,” nor would he define it as a “First Amendment speaker expressing your views” in response to a question about political bias at the company from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). “Our goal is certainly not to engage in political speech,” Zuckerberg insisted.
But Cruz said many Americans were still concerned about a “pervasive pattern of bias and political censorship” against conservatives by Facebook. Though Zuckerberg acknowledged that Silicon Valley is “an extremely left-leaning place,” he maintained he was “very committed to making sure Facebook is a platform for all ideas.” Facebook doesn’t consider party affiliation when making hiring or firing decisions, Zuckerberg said, and he does not know the political orientation of the more than 20,000 employees on a team responsible for security and content review at the social network.
Facebook won’t help immigration officials identify illegal immigrants, Zuckerberg assured Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). “We would not proactively do that,” he said. The company cooperates with law enforcement only when it becomes aware of an “imminent threat of harm,” or when Facebook is presented with a subpoena or data request, he said.
Zuckerberg stressed that advertising remained the core of the company’s business model, when pressed by lawmakers on Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg’s recent comments about a paid product. Sandberg,speaking on “The Today Show” last week, said, “We have different forms of opt-out. We don’t have an opt-out at the highest level. That would be a paid product.”
“What Sheryl was saying was that in order to not run ads at all, we would still need some sort of business model,” Zuckerberg told senators on Tuesday. “We don’t offer an option today for people to pay to not show ads. … We want to offer a free service that everyone can afford.”
Among new transparency measures, Facebook users will now be able to click on any advertiser on the website and be able to view all the ads that firm is running. Facebook also will begin verifying every single advertiser running political ads, Zuckerberg said.
Even Mark Zuckerberg has limits on what he’s willing to share.
In a rare light-hearted exchange during his public grilling before U.S. senators Tuesday, the Facebook CEO told Sen. Dick Durbin that no, he would rather not share personal details of his life with the U.S. Congress.
“Mr. Zuckerberg, would you be comfortable sharing with us the name of the hotel you stayed in last night?” asked Durbin, an Illinois Democrat.
“Um… no,” Zuckerberg said after pausing, then smiled as the room laughed.
“If you’ve messaged anybody this week, would you share with us the names of the people you’ve messaged?” Durbin continued.
“Senator, no, I would probably not choose to do that publicly here,” Zuckerberg replied.
“I think that maybe is what this is all about,” Durbin said. “Your right to privacy. The limits of your right to privacy and how much you give away in modern America in the name of quote, ‘Connecting people around the world.’”
Durbin was among many senators who grilled Zuckerberg on what the social network collected on its users, following revelations that the Donald Trump-affiliated data mining firm Cambridge Analytica scooped up data on millions of Americans without their knowledge.
Zuckerberg said he didn’t consider his company a monopoly.
“You don’t think you have a monopoly?” Sen. Lindsey Graham asked.
“It certainly doesn’t feel like that to me,” Zuckerberg responded to scattered laughter in the chamber.
Debate over whether Facebook and other large tech companies are monopolistic and hurt competition has grown in Washington as the political class has soured on Silicon Valley.