Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg repeatedly expressed contrition in a high-profile congressional hearing Tuesday that featured complaints that went far beyond how the social network has handled the data of tens of millions of Americans.
Senators from both parties aggressively questioned Zuckerberg in his first ever public appearance in front of Congress over recent controversies – from data privacy to Russian disinformation. They demanded new detail about how Facebook collects and uses data and elicited assurances that it will implement major improvements in protecting personal privacy. The threat of greater regulation – not just of Facebook, but of the entire technology industry – hung over the first of two days of congressional hearings.
“If Facebook and other online companies will not or cannot fix these privacy invasions, then we will,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (Fla.), the highest-ranking Democrat on the Commerce Committee. The Tuesday hearing was a rare joint session before two Senate panels — the Commerce and Judiciary committees — with as many as 44 senators set to question the Facebook executive.
“It’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm as well,” Zuckerberg said at the Senate hearing. “And that goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy.”
Zuckerberg, who has long avoided wading into Washington affairs, took responsibility for the missteps. “We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. And it was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.”
Facebook’s inability to identify and combat Russian disinformation during the 2016 presidential campaign is one of Zuckerberg’s “biggest regrets,” he said. “One of my top priorities in 2018 is getting this right.”
He also confirmed that Facebook officials have been interviewed by officials from Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who has been investigating Russia’s role in influencing the 2016 election. “I know we are working with them,” said Zuckerberg.