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Lawmakers zero in on Zuckerberg

Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergDemocrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff Democrats press Facebook, Twitter on misinformation efforts ahead of Georgia runoff Hillicon Valley: Facebook content moderators demand more workplace protections | Ousted cyber official blasts Giuliani press conference | Tech firms fall short on misinformation targeting Latino vote MORE is drawing intense scrutiny from lawmakers demanding that the Facebook founder testify to Congress about the Cambridge Analytica controversy.

Facebook’s data practices are under the microscope like never before following a report that the British research firm connected to President TrumpDonald John TrumpMinnesota certifies Biden victory Trump tells allies he plans to pardon Michael Flynn: report Republican John James concedes in Michigan Senate race MORE’s campaign improperly obtained information on 50 million Facebook users as it sought to find ways of influencing voters at the polls.

On Monday, the top Republicans on the Senate Commerce Committee — Sens. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Overnight Defense: Pentagon set for tighter virus restrictions as top officials tests positive | Military sees 11th COVID-19 death | House Democrats back Senate language on Confederate base names Trump keeps tight grip on GOP amid divisions MORE (S.D.), Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerGOP lawmaker patience runs thin with Trump tactics Republicans start turning the page on Trump era The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump, Biden blitz battleground states MORE (Miss.) and Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranIt's time for Congress to act: Save jobs and stabilize the aerospace industry Lobbying world This World Suicide Prevention Day, let's recommit to protecting the lives of our veterans MORE (Kan.) — sent a list of questions to Zuckerberg about the “troubling” reports, with Moran saying Zuckerberg needed to testify.

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“That’s our first step, and then I think testimony in front of the Commerce Committee would be appropriate and required,” Moran told reporters on Tuesday. “I think there’s a lot of questions left to be answered.”

The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffTrump addresses pandemic but not election during annual turkey pardon Trump relents as GSA informs Biden transition to begin Hillicon Valley: Leadership changes at top cyber agency raise national security concerns | Snapchat launches in-app video platform 'Spotlight' | Uber, Lyft awarded federal transportation contract MORE (Calif.), also told The Hill on Tuesday that he believes that Zuckerberg, along with other CEOs, should attend hearings.

“We had the general counsel come in. That was quite some time ago. We’ve learned more about the Russian interference since then,” Schiff explained.

Zuckerberg is also taking heat in Europe.

British lawmakers, who are concerned about the episode with London-based Cambridge Analytica, have called on him to appear before Parliament’s digital oversight committee.

As the calls for answers mount, Zuckerberg has remained silent. His company has sought to send the signal that it takes the matter seriously even as it faults Cambridge Analytica and other players.

“Mark, Sheryl and their teams are working around the clock to get all the facts and take the appropriate action moving forward, because they understand the seriousness of this issue,” Facebook said in a statement, referring to the company’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.

“The entire company is outraged we were deceived. We are committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people’s information and will take whatever steps are required to see that this happens.”

The company has also promised to investigate the incident and Cambridge Analytica’s handling of the data. For its part, Cambridge Analytica has denied any wrongdoing and says that the data was not used during its work for the Trump campaign.

The appearance before any congressional panel of the billionaire tech magnate would be a cable television blockbuster — particularly given Cambridge Analytica’s work for President Trump’s campaign and the cloud of the Russia investigation hanging over the political world.

Zuckerberg and other tech CEOs take great pains to stay out of the spotlight in the midst of controversies, and that impulse is likely heightened now that the industry is faced with a growing movement that wants to hit them with tougher regulations.

Facebook in October revealed that Russian groups used its platform to influence the U.S. political process. That led to hearings in November at which lawmakers grilled Facebook and other tech companies about how the influence campaign was able to use their platforms to sow discord among voters.

Facebook dispatched its top lawyer to testify in November. This time around, Congress is strongly hinting that sending lawyers won’t be enough.

“The last time we had a hearing, Facebook and Google and Twitter sent their lawyers, which were undoubtedly expensive because they did a damn fine job of dodging and bobbing and weaving,” Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) told reporters on Monday. “They didn’t say a damn thing.”

Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley: YouTube suspends OANN amid lawmaker pressure | Dems probe Facebook, Twitter over Georgia runoff | FCC reaffirms ZTE's national security risk Democrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff YouTube temporarily suspends OANN account after spreading coronavirus misinformation MORE (D-Minn.) and Kennedy this week urged Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyRep. Rick Allen tests positive for COVID-19 On The Money: Biden to nominate Yellen for Treasury secretary | 'COVID cliff' looms | Democrats face pressure to back smaller stimulus Loeffler to continue to self-isolate after conflicting COVID-19 test results MORE (R-Iowa) to hold a hearing with Zuckerberg and other tech CEOs about how their platforms oversee political firms’ data practices.

“This is a major breach that must be investigated,” Klobuchar said over the weekend. “It’s clear these platforms can’t police themselves.”

While members have ripped executives at Facebook and other companies, the major social media platforms are no closer to facing regulation today then they were immediately after the November hearings. One of Facebook’s biggest worries now is that public testimony from Zuckerberg about his company’s data and advertising practices could be one of the first steps toward changing that.

Klobuchar said that Facebook’s controversy with Cambridge Analytica is further evidence that internet companies need to be regulated. She and the Senate Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerBiden leans on foreign policy establishment to build team Trump relents as GSA informs Biden transition to begin Hillicon Valley: Leadership changes at top cyber agency raise national security concerns | Snapchat launches in-app video platform 'Spotlight' | Uber, Lyft awarded federal transportation contract MORE (Va.), have pushed their Honest Ads Act legislation, which aims to hold tech companies to the same political ad transparency standards as radio, TV and print outlets, as a way to do this.

For all of the growing bipartisan outrage at companies like Facebook and Google, Republicans have generally been loath to regulate the platforms. But there’s no guarantee that Facebook’s good luck will continue in the wake of this latest scandal, especially as Democrats, who have a good chance of reclaiming Congress this year, become more willing to confront Silicon Valley and its left-leaning leaders.

“Mark Zuckerberg ought to be subpoenaed if he doesn’t appear voluntarily. [He should] appear under oath, in public, along with other CEOs in the same space, and Alexander Nix of Cambridge Analytica and others connected with the company,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said.