San Francisco/Washington: Facebook Inc. chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg, in prepared testimony for the US House of Representatives, said all of Facebook’s problems are his mistake.
The world’s largest social-media company didn’t do enough to prevent its tools from being used for harm, especially in terms of fake news, foreign interference in elections, hate speech, developer policies and data privacy, Zuckerberg, Facebook’s co-founder, said.
“It was my mistake, and I’m sorry," Zuckerberg added, according to a copy of the prepared testimony ahead of his appearance in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday. “I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here."
Zuckerberg is due to testify to Congress on Tuesday and Wednesday in the midst of the worst privacy crisis in Facebook’s history. He will try to explain how much Facebook contributes to the world, while saying he didn’t take a broad enough view of the consequences of the company’s technology.
The prepared testimony recounts many of the updates Facebook has made to improve security since revelations that Cambridge Analytica, a political consultant with ties to President Donald Trump’s campaign, obtained information on as many as 87 million users without their consent. It also confirms Facebook knows little about what Cambridge Analytica did with the data, or even whether it still has the information. Facebook’s timeline about the incident relies on outside news reports, not the Menlo Park, California-based company’s own investigation.
“I’ve directed our teams to invest so much in security— on top of the other investments we’re making— that it will significantly impact our profitability going forward," Zuckerberg said in the prepared testimony. “But I want to be clear about what our priority is: protecting our community is more important than maximizing our profits."
Zuckerberg is also ready to take more questions about the use of Facebook by Russian operatives to manipulate the 2016 US presidential election. In Monday’s prepared testimony, he summarized investments the company is making to prevent fake accounts and monitoring activity around elections.
“My top priority has always been our social mission of connecting people, building community and bringing the world closer together," Zuckerberg said. “Advertisers and developers will never take priority over that as long as I’m running Facebook."
Congress will likely make the point that Facebook is a company, not a philanthropy, and has made decisions based on incentives that don’t align with helping users, especially with regards to privacy. Facebook relies on profits from precision targeting of ads and engaged users, which is hard to balance with demands to protect user privacy and stamp out content that’s deceptive or false.
This is at the core of a lot of questions Zuckerberg can expect. Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana, who wants to know more about the algorithms Facebook uses for what posts to show, said Sunday he fears privacy issues and “the propagandist issue are both too big for Facebook to fix."
Zuckerberg met with lawmakers Monday on Capitol Hill, including Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce committee, and Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee.
After an hour-long meeting with Zuckerberg, Nelson said the CEO was “forthright" and promised changes. But Nelson sees the need for lawmakers to do something to protect privacy and counter adversaries like Russia.
“If we don’t watch out, with social media and platforms like Facebook and the mistakes that they made in the past, then no American is going to have any privacy," Nelson said. “You can’t protect our privacy just on the basis of somebody telling you they’re going to protect it. Does that mean law? Yes. Does that mean regulation? Yes."
Nelson, however, isn’t confident regulations will be passed under the Trump administration, while noting that Facebook’s business model requires data to target ads. The senator is more concerned immediately about data getting into the hands of people who intend to do harm.
“My sense is he takes it seriously because he knows there’s going to be a hard look at regulation," Nelson said of Zuckerberg. “If it’s going to undermine ultimately our democratic institutions we’re going to have to do something to protect ourselves."
Criticism of Zuckerberg wasn’t limited to Congress. Trump’s top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, told reporters Monday that he hoped Zuckerberg would present himself professionally. “Is he going to wear a suit and tie and clean white shirt?" Kudlow said. “That’s my bigger question. Is he going to behave like an adult, as a major corporate leader?"
On his way to the meeting with Nelson, Zuckerberg was in a suit. Bloomberg