Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook CEO, testified in front of a US Senate joint committee hearing with regards to the controversial use of the platform by Russia to disseminate wrong information and propaganda and also the illegal act of harvesting information from over 87 million FB users by Cambridge Analytica.
The hearing raised the stakes for the social media platform as any sort of mistake would have tarnished the company’s image beyond repair. Even though the 33-year-old CEO is somewhat an awkward speaker and he communicated his delivery in a very robotic fashion, he managed to stick to one message that Facebook had made a “big mistake” and the company will do absolutely everything to make the necessary alterations to prevent this from happening again.
Throughout the five-hour hearing, the technological naivety and illiteracy displayed by some of the senators took a frustrating turn especially for Zuckerberg who had to continuously keep explaining the fundamental features and concepts of the social media platform. The fact that Facebook does not sell user data had to be spelt out three times.
However, there were many, relatively, tech-literate senators who asked questions revolving around conversations inside the company, trust and protocol and probable violations of an FTC order. Zuckerberg’s answers to these questions were a little less than satisfying. Zuckerberg is yet to appear before a House committee yet again.
From the Senate hearing, it is now known that several Facebook employees have been interviewed in the Robert Mueller investigation, which is currently in the midst of probing Russian intervention in the 2016 US presidential election. Moreover, Facebook was accused of breaching an FTC order, which was denied by Zuckerberg. According to the order, Facebook must safeguard user data and always ask for user permission before sharing it. With the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook clearly failed the FTC order.
However, in the company’s defence, Zuckerberg stated that the users consented before their data was shared. Also, the social media company has considered offering a subscription option for users that will be ad free. According to Zuckerberg, before signing up, most of the users do not read the site’s terms of service and choose to skip it.
Zuckerberg also clarified that the company does not have “specific knowledge” of China, Russia or any other nation state trying to scrape data and build profiles for users. He also stated that the company is still in the midst of investigating the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Apart from that, Ted Cruz—Republican senator—pointed out Facebook’s apparent political bias in supressing conservative stories.
In order to check Zuckerberg’s limits to his own privacy, Dick Durbin—Democratic senator— asked the Facebook CEO about the name of the hotel he was staying in. The Facebook founder refused to answer this question.