Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder, chairman and CEO of Facebook, appeared before lawmakers for the first time on Tuesday to answer questions about how his social networking juggernaut handles its 2.2 billion users private data, as well as the role the company played in Russias meddling in the 2016 election.
The 33-year-old tech titan faced an onslaught of 44 senators from the chambers Judiciary and Commerce committees — all eager to maximize their allotted five minutes for grilling the witness.
Zuckerberg had at least a few friendly faces stationed outside on the Capitol lawn — but they were all his own. A 100-strong infantry of life-sized cutouts bearing the Facebook chiefs likeness were stationed there as part of an activist campaign to halt the spread of misinformation on social media.
Here are the key moments from his testimony:
First and foremost, Zuckerberg told lawmakers, hes sorry. 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, “its clear now that we didnt 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.”
“It will take some time to work through all of the changes we need to make, but Im committed to getting it right” — Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
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 companys shortcomings in its response.
“We didnt take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake,” he added. “It was my mistake, and Im sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and Im responsible for what happens here.”
“It will take some time to work through all of the changes we need to make,” he added, “but Im committed to getting it right.”
He said his company had been contacted by special counsel Robert Muellers 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 Muellers team but that he personally had not.
Facebook also didnt notify the Federal Trade Commission in 2015 following its discovery of the breach.
Facebook will be looking into “tens of thousands” of apps to determine whether theres been improper use of data, Zuckerberg explained.
“We believe that were going to be investigating many apps — tens of thousands of apps — and if we find any suspicious activity, were going to conduct a full audit of those apps to understand how theyre using their data if theyre doing anything improper,” he said, in response to a question from Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley. “And if we find that theyre doing anything improper, well 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 didnt 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 shouldnt have taken their word for it.”
Zuckerberg also said he didnt remember when Facebook made the decision not to inform users that their data had been breached, and that he didnt remember being involved in the conversation where the decision was made.
“Youve been asked several critical questions for which you dont have answers,” said Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), citing Zuckerbergs inability to tell the committee whether Facebook could track users activity across various devices after theyd logged off Facebook, or whether Facebook could follow users browser histories when they were not on the social network.
At one point, after talking to his team during a break, Zuckerberg revised some of what he had said earlier, saying that his company could have kicked Cambridge Analytica off its platform in 2015. In an earlier line of questioning, he told senators that Cambridge Analytica was not on the platform in 2015 when its data violation was first discovered — and therefore coudnt be banned. Zuckerberg corrected himself and said Cambridge Analytica actually became a Facebook advertiser in 2015.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a combined Senate Judiciary and Commerce committee on April 10, 2018 | Zach Gibson/Getty Images
“We, in theory, could have banned them in 2015,” he said. “We made a mistake in not doing so.”
Senator 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 didnt buy Zuckerbergs most recent displays of contrition before Congress and the committee.
“Weve 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 dont 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 Senator Dean Heller (R-Nev.) when asked about the social networks hesitancy to provide personal information to the U.S. intelligence community. He also said he wouldnt call himself or his company a victim — but said the 87 million users at the center of Facebooks 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 couldnt 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.
Its important that Facebook be allowed to continue experimenting with facial recognition and other services that draw upon sensitive, identifiable information, Zuckerberg said.
Is Facebook a tech company or a publisher? Senator 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 were a media company or a publisher, my understanding is — what the heart of what theyre 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 dont think thats 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. Its 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.
“You used language of safety and protection earlier. We see this happening on college campuses all over the country. … Its dangerous” — Senator Ben Sasse
You can work with us on regulation or you can work against us, Senator John Kennedy (R-La.) told Zuckerberg. “Now heres whats going to happen,” Kennedy said. “Theres going to be a whole bunch of bills introduced to regulate Facebook. Its up to you whether they pass or not. You can go back home, spend 10 million dollars on lobbyists and fight us, or you can go back home and help us solve this problem.”
Kennedy explained that there were two key problems for Facebook — privacy and propaganda. He specifically highlighted issues with Facebooks user agreement, adding: “Heres what everyones been trying to tell you today and I say this gently: Your user agreement sucks. … The purpose of that user agreement is to cover Facebooks rear end. Its not to inform your users about their rights.”
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. … Its dangerous,” Senator 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 wouldnt 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 wouldnt 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 Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas). “Our goal is certainly not to engage in political speech,” Zuckerberg insisted.
Senator Bill Nelson grills Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on April 10, 2018 | Alex Wong/Getty Images
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 doesnt 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 wont help immigration officials identify illegal immigrants, Zuckerberg assured Senator 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 companys business model, when pressed by lawmakers on Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandbergs recent comments about a paid product. Sandberg, speaking on “The Today Show” last week, said, “We have different forms of opt-out. We dont 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 dont 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.
He said he didnt consider his company a monopoly. “You dont think you have a monopoly?” Senator Lindsey Graham asked.
“It certainly doesnt 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.
John Hendel, Ashley Gold and Li Zhou contributed to this report.