Mark Zuckerberg sat down to answer questions from Congress for the first time ever today, as he would previously send a deputy in his stead, according to CNN. The recent Facebook data scandal, however, has seemingly made it clear for the CEO that he better personally get in front of this debacle and cooperate with the government before things get any worse. A mere 10 days after the Cambridge Analytica news was uncovered, for example, Facebook lost a stunning $70 billion. There have been demonstrations, protests, and calls for the social media company to do better in terms of privacy, accuracy, and user integrity.
Earlier today, CNN reported that 100 cardboard cutouts of Zuckerberg were propped up on the U.S. Capitol lawn by activist group Avaaz, which is calling on the internet CEOs like Zuck, age 33, and government regulators to more stringently combat “fake news” on social media platforms. Additionally, the campaign published an open letter responding to Zuckerberg’s apology, which was signed by over 850,000 people worldwide. This letter reportedly demands platforms like Facebook “tell the truth, ban the bots, alert the public, and fund the fact-checkers.”
“We know Facebook is doing things to address the fake news problem, but they are doing it in a way that is too small and too secretive,” said Avaaz campaign director Nell Greenberg. “We want Facebook to tell the truth regarding the work that is being done to stop this and the scale of the fake news and fake post problem. We just want to know the transparency of the problem and what is being done to tackle it.” The cutouts splayed across the lawn reportedly represent the hundreds of millions of fake accounts still running rampant on the social media platform, with each cutout wearing a shirt that reads “Fix Facebook.”
Now, as for the actual Senate hearing and Mark Zuckerberg’s official testimony, there were some fairly notable questions and answers to consider. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Committee of Commerce, began the proceedings with an opening statement littered with demands for discipline and responsibility on Facebook’s behalf. “Mr. Zuckerberg, in many ways you and the company you’ve created represent the American Dream,” said Thune. “Many are incredibly inspired by what you’ve done. At the same time, you have an obligation to ensure that dream doesn’t become a privacy nightmare for the scores of people who use Facebook.”
Zuckerberg countered the opening statements by Sen. Thune, Sen. Grassley, and Ranking Member Feinstein with a statement summarizing the socially positive aspects of the social media platform, like the fundraising post-Hurricane Harvey, or the benefits small businesses can find by connecting to customers online. He also maintained that Facebook is a force for good, and an idealistic company since its founding. “My top priority has always been our social mission of connecting people, building community and bringing the world closer together,” said Zuckerberg. “Advertisers and developers will never take priority over that as long as I’m running Facebook.” Ultimately, he claimed complete responsibility. “I started Facebook, I run it, and I'm responsible for what happens here.”
In terms of Facebook and its CEO not taking more aggressive action upon discovering Cambridge Analytica’s illegal use user data in 2015, Zuckerberg claimed they considered it “a closed case,” since he believed Cambridge Analytica had deleted the content they had collected. This is why, he claims, he neither contacted the Federal Trade Commission nor took further action. “We try not to make the same mistakes multiple times,” said Zuckerberg. “It’s pretty much impossible to grow a business from your dorm room to a scale of this size without making mistakes.” When it came to a Senator’s concern regarding targeted advertisements on the social media platform, Zuckerberg approached his answer with a positive spin. “People really don’t like ads that aren’t relevant,” he said.
As for the alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, Zuckerberg vocalized his remorse for not identifying bad actors sooner. He mentioned the French and German elections, during which Facebook seemed to have more “proactively removed tens of thousands of accounts before they could contribute significant harm.” As for the Russian influence, Zuckerberg added, “This is an arms race. They’re going to keep getting better at this.”
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