Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg expressed contrition for allowing third-party apps to grab the data of its users without their permission and for being “too slow to spot and respond to Russian interference” during the U.S. election, according to his prepared remarks published by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Zuckerberg plans to open his remarks with a familiar recitation of the social media platform’s ability to link far-flung people together but then pivot into an acknowledgment of Facebook’s increasingly visible dark side.
“It’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm as well,” Zuckerberg plans to tell lawmakers. “That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy. We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.”
The testimony’s release, ahead of the first of two hearings this week, came as a suit-clad Zuckerberg and some of his top lobbyists and aides made the rounds on Capitol Hill, huddling with lawmakers who planned to grill him Tuesday and Wednesday. The meetings included a session with Sen. Bill Nelson (Fla.), the top Democrat on the Commerce Committee, as a cluster of reporters waited outside.
Exiting that meeting, Zuckerberg ignored shouted questions from reporters. Nelson afterwards said he pressed the Facebook chief executive on everything from its privacy practices to the efforts by Russian agents to spread disinformation on social media during the 2016 election.
“If we don’t rein in the misuse of social media, none of us are going to have any privacy anymore,” Nelson said.
The company has been reeling since the November 2016 election, during which phony news reports spread widely on its platform and Russian operatives mounted an ambitious campaign to divide American voters, damage Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and bolster the chances of Republican candidate Donald Trump.
Facebook appeared to be recovering from those controversies until last month’s revelation that a political consultancy hired by Trump and other Republicans improperly gained access to data on 87 million Facebook users, including 71 million Americans. The company acknowledged last week a separate problem in which “malicious actors” were able to identify and collect data on Facebook users on such a massive scale that most of the company’s 2.2 billion users were affected.
The release of the testimony, for Wednesday’s appearance before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is part of a major public relations push by Facebook to acknowledge its failings in protecting user privacy and not acting quickly enough to thwart several Russian disinformation campaigns, including one during the 2016 presidential election.
Zuckerberg was scheduled to meet with Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Commerce Committee, and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Judiciary Committee. The Facebook chief executive also planned to appear before a Senate committee hearing on Tuesday. Those remarks are expected to be similar.
“It’s not enough to just connect people, we have to make sure those connections are positive,” Zuckerberg plans to say in his testimony. “It’s not enough to just give people a voice, we have to make sure people aren’t using it to hurt people or spread misinformation. It’s not enough to give people control of their information, we have to make sure developers they’ve given it to are protecting it too.”
Facebook has announced measures in recent weeks to tighten how handles user data, bring new transparency to who is behind political advertising and work more openly with outside researchers, who long have complained that the company’s platform was walled off from meaningful analysis of its content and impacts.
The company on Monday also began notifying users whose data was improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica, the political consultancy hired by Trump and other Republicans. The kind of data-sharing that Cambridge Analytica took advantage of in 2014 was widespread among app developers before Facebook began tightening its data-use policies that year. Before the changes, outside app developers could gain access to a wide range of user data — including their full names, home towns, work histories, religious affiliations and Facebook “likes” — without the explicit permission of most users.
Among the pledges made by Zuckerberg is a promise to better protect Facebook from exploitation in time to safeguard the 2018 congressional election.
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