23 March 2019
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg leaves the office of a senator on Capitol Hill in Washington on Monday. Photo: AFP
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg leaves the office of a senator on Capitol Hill in Washington on Monday. Photo: AFP

Zuckerberg meets US lawmakers, apologizes for mistakes

Facebook Inc. chief executive Mark Zuckerberg swapped his trademark T-shirt and jeans for a dark suit and a purple tie on Monday as he met US lawmakers to apologize for the social network’s misuse of its members’ data and to head off possible regulation, Reuters reports.

His apologies preceded two days of congressional hearings this week, where Zuckerberg will be asked how 87 million Facebook users’ data was improperly shared with a political consultancy, Cambridge Analytica.

He is also likely to face questions about ads and posts placed by Russian operatives, in what US authorities believe was an attempt to influence the US 2016 election.

“We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake,” he said in written remarks released by the US House Energy and Commerce Committee on Monday. “It was my mistake, and I’m sorry.”

If Zuckerberg does not provide satisfactory answers this week, Congress is more likely to push new laws to strictly regulate Facebook.

Anticipating such a move, the company has already said it favors new legislation that would make social networks disclose who is behind political ads, much as TV and radio stations must already do.

Zuckerberg held meetings with the top Republican and Democratic senators on the commerce and judiciary committees that will question him on Tuesday in a joint meeting. He faces further grilling from the House energy and commerce committee on Wednesday.

On Monday, he was pictured in one photo showing his mobile device to Senator Bill Nelson, the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee. He met Senator John Thune, the commerce committee’s Republican chairman, later in the day.

He also met Chuck Grassley, the Senate judiciary committee’s Republican chairman, and the leading Democrat on that committee, Dianne Feinstein.

Top of the agenda in this week’s hearings will be Facebook’s dealings with Cambridge Analytica, a London-based company that counts US President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign among its past clients, or go-betweens.

Lawmakers are also expected to press Zuckerberg closely on the 2016 election, which he anticipated in his written testimony.

“It’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm…” he said. “That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy.”

Zuckerberg’s testimony said the company was “too slow to spot and respond to Russian interference, and we’re working hard to get better”. He vowed to make improvements, adding it would take time, but he was “committed to getting it right”.

Facebook disclosed in September that Russians under fake names had used the social network to try to influence US voters in the months before and after the 2016 election, writing about inflammatory subjects, setting up events and buying ads.

In February, US Special Counsel Robert Mueller charged 13 Russians and three Russian companies with interfering in the election by sowing discord on social media.

The company’s data practices are under investigation by the US Federal Trade Commission.

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