Facebook Founder And CEO Mark Zuckerberg Testifies On Capitol Hill

Apr 10, 2018
Originally published on April 10, 2018 7:34 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced nearly five hours of grilling on Capitol Hill today. Forty-some senators were putting questions to him on how the personal information of up to 87 million Facebook users got into the hands of a political data mining firm, Cambridge Analytica. Zuckerberg acknowledged his company had messed up.

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MARK ZUCKERBERG: This episode has clearly hurt us and has clearly made it harder for us to achieve the social mission that we care about. And we now have to do a lot of work around building trust.

KELLY: Senators also raised questions about other controversies involving Facebook. NPR's Alina Selyukh is back with us. She was there for all five hours of the testimony. Congratulations on surviving, Alina. The hearing's wrapped up now. What was the big takeaway for you? What was the headline?

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: So the big theme of the hearing definitely had everything to do with this kind of unclear to most users scope of access that Facebook has to their lives. Remember; this is - this was all started because of Cambridge Analytica, as you were saying. Suddenly people were realizing that their clicks and likes were kind of taking a life on their own once they were on Facebook. And so this hearing specifically highlighted just how little people on Facebook understand the amounts of - the amount of control that they have over information. There was one very telling moment when Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, asked Zuckerberg about this.

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DICK DURBIN: Mr. Zuckerberg, would you be comfortable sharing with us the name of the hotel you stayed in last night?

ZUCKERBERG: (Laughter) No.

(LAUGHTER)

DURBIN: If you've messaged anybody this week, would you share with us the names of the people you've messaged?

ZUCKERBERG: Senator, no, I would probably not choose to do that publicly here.

DURBIN: I think that may be what this is all about.

SELYUKH: Right. It's the amount of trust that people put into Facebook, and now questions being raised about what Facebook does with that trust.

KELLY: Did we ever find out where Mark Zuckerberg - what hotel he was in last night? Not that you're on it.

SELYUKH: (Laughter) I'm on it right after this.

KELLY: Well, see if lawmakers get to that tomorrow. For today's hearing, what was the overall tone? I mean, there were - there's been a lot of pent-up frustration with Facebook on Capitol Hill, a lot of lawmakers waiting for years to put questions with him. How did it all unfold?

SELYUKH: You know, it could have been a lot worse. There was a lot of fascination with the sort of origin story of Facebook, a lot of references to his dorm room. There were of course some moments of real scrutiny. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina, asked whether Facebook or Zuckerberg considered Facebook a monopoly, which is a big word to utter. And there was this moment - very notable - at the end of the hearing with Senator John Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana.

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JOHN KENNEDY: Here's what everybody's been trying to tell you, and I say this gently. Your user agreement sucks.

(LAUGHTER)

KENNEDY: You can spot me 75 IQ points. If I can figure it out, you can figure it out. The purpose of that user agreement is to cover Facebook's rear end. It's not to inform your users about their rights.

SELYUKH: What he's talking about is Facebook's fine print. And he - which he says Facebook should go back and rewrite. And he says he doesn't really want to regulate Facebook, but, you know, he just might.

KELLY: What about this central question? If you're thinking about regulating Facebook, you have to figure out what Facebook is. This has been an ongoing question...

SELYUKH: Right.

KELLY: ...How Facebook defines itself. Is it a publisher? Is it a media company? Is it a...

SELYUKH: Neutral platform.

KELLY: ...Tech company? Yeah. Is it a utility? What is it?

SELYUKH: This came up a number of times. And there was one specific exchange after a question with - from Senator Dan Sullivan, Republican of Alaska.

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ZUCKERBERG: I agree that we're responsible for the content. But we don't produce the content. I think that when people ask us if we're a media company or a publisher, my understanding of what the heart of what they're really getting at is, do we feel responsibility for the content on our platform? The answer to that I think is clearly yes.

SELYUKH: This was a very rehearsed, very prepared answer to this long-running question. For years Facebook has bristled at a comparison to a media company. And this is sort of the slow acceptance of some responsibility for the content that lives on its platform.

KELLY: What about Russia...

SELYUKH: Right.

KELLY: ...And the attempts by Russia to try to influence American voters in the run-up to the 2016 election, try to influence American politics, you know, past the election and right up to this moment right now? What did Zuckerberg say about that?

SELYUKH: So he apologized for being too slow to respond. They have been shutting down some accounts. There was a bit of news sort of on that front, and it had to do with the special counsel Robert Mueller. He said that - he was asked whether some employees - whether he actually was interviewed as part of the Mueller investigation into Russia and potential meddling. And he said he himself was not, but some employees were.

This was a political story for Democrats. But Republicans were actually more interested in accusations of a liberal bias on Facebook. Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Ben Sasse brought up this issue and kind of grilled Zuckerberg on the stories in the 2016 cycle about Facebook employees allegedly suppressing conservative stories. And that was sort of a political point on that end.

KELLY: All right. Quickly, Alina, this was round one.

SELYUKH: Yes.

KELLY: Round two is tomorrow. He'll be on the House side. What are we watching for?

SELYUKH: We are watching for more of the same. And you know what? The shares of Facebook were up today. So if he does it again, Facebook will be breathing a sigh of relief.

KELLY: All right.

SELYUKH: (Laughter).

KELLY: NPR's Alina Selyukh, thank you so much.

SELYUKH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.