Lawmakers zero in on Zuckerberg

Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergFacebook users in lawsuit say company failed to warn them of known risks before 2018 breach Social media never intended to be in the news business — but just wait till AI takes over Facebook exploring deals with media outlets for news section: report 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 Trump Former US ambassador: 'Denmark is not a big fan of Donald Trump and his politics' Senate Democrats push for arms control language in defense policy bill Detroit county sheriff endorses Booker for president 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 ThuneSchumer blasts 'red flag' gun legislation as 'ineffective cop out' Lawmakers jump-start talks on privacy bill Trump border fight throws curveball into shutdown prospects MORE (S.D.), Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerHillicon Valley: Trump reportedly weighing executive action on alleged tech bias | WH to convene summit on online extremism | Federal agencies banned from buying Huawei equipment | Lawmakers jump start privacy talks The Hill's Morning Report - How will Trump be received in Dayton and El Paso? Lawmakers jump-start talks on privacy bill MORE (Miss.) and Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranSenators introduce bill aimed at protecting Olympic athletes in response to abuse scandals Overnight Defense: Senate fails to override Trump veto on Saudi arms sales | Two US troops killed in Afghanistan | Senators tee up nominations, budget deal ahead of recess Senate fails to override Trump veto on Saudi arms sale 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: Jews who vote Democrat show 'lack of knowledge or great disloyalty' Are Democrats turning Trump-like? Schiff offers bill to make domestic terrorism a federal crime 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 Jean KlobucharSenate Democrats push for arms control language in defense policy bill The Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes Harris to appear in CNN climate town hall after backlash MORE (D-Minn.) and Kennedy this week urged Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyWhite House denies exploring payroll tax cut to offset worsening economy Schumer joins Pelosi in opposition to post-Brexit trade deal that risks Northern Ireland accord GOP senators call for Barr to release full results of Epstein investigation 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 WarnerFacebook users in lawsuit say company failed to warn them of known risks before 2018 breach New intel chief inherits host of challenges Overnight Defense: US, Russia tensions grow over nuclear arms | Highlights from Esper's Asia trip | Trump strikes neutral tone on Hong Kong protests | General orders ethics review of special forces 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.