Five takeaways from Mark Zuckerberg's media blitz

Five takeaways from Mark Zuckerberg's media blitz
© Getty

Facebook founder Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergDemocrats urge tech CEOs to combat Spanish disinformation Activists protest Facebook's 'failure' on disinformation with body bags outside DC office Budowsky: How Biden can defeat COVID-19 for good MORE went on a media blitz Wednesday night aimed at blunting growing pressure on the tech giant.

In conversations with journalists, Zuckerberg tried to explain his company’s side of the controversy over how British research firm Cambridge Analytica improperly accessed data on 50 million Facebook users. Zuckerberg also outlined steps Facebook is taking to stop similar cases from happening in the future.

Zuckerberg’s push comes as lawmakers’ frustration with Facebook, which built up last year amid revelations about Russian social media influence on the platform, hit a new high this week following the Cambridge Analytica revelations.

ADVERTISEMENT

Some legislators are particularly concerned about the research firm’s ties to the Trump campaign and Russia.

Zuckerberg sought to quell such concerns. Here are the five takeaways from Zuckerberg’s interviews amid the growing scandal:

Facebook may accept regulation 

Zuckerberg told CNN in an interview on Wednesday night that he’s open to internet platforms like Facebook facing some types of regulation, breaking his company’s public silence on lawmakers' calls to regulate ads on the platform.

“Actually, I’m not sure we shouldn’t be regulated,” he said. “I actually think the question is more ‘What is the right regulation?’ rather than ‘Yes or no, should it be regulated?’ ”

Zuckerberg signaled that he might be amenable to political ad regulation, but overall it’s unclear what regulations he would actually support.

“If you look at how much regulation there is around advertising on TV, in print, you know, it's just not clear why there should be less on the internet,” Zuckerberg said, noting that he “would love to see” new transparency regulations for political advertisements.

ADVERTISEMENT

Sens. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley: Democrats urge tech CEOs to combat Spanish disinformation | Amazon fined 6M by EU regulators Democrats urge tech CEOs to combat Spanish disinformation Bill would honor Ginsburg, O'Connor with statues at Capitol MORE (D-Minn.) and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerSenate infrastructure talks spill over into rare Sunday session Senate holds sleepy Saturday session as negotiators finalize infrastructure deal Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire MORE (D-Va.) have introduced legislation to hold political ads on internet platforms to the same disclosure standards as TV, radio and print.

But Facebook has not backed Klobuchar’s legislation, which would bring parity on political ad regulations between platforms. During the interview, Zuckerberg instead touted Facebook’s own self-regulation efforts.

So while Zuckerberg has acknowledged that regulation could be necessary, it’s clear that he would prefer that regulation come from within the tech companies themselves.

Zuckerberg doesn't want to testify 

During his media blitz, Zuckerberg appeared to say that he was open to the possibility of testifying before lawmakers on Capitol Hill — and then immediately walked that idea back. 

“I'm happy to [testify], if it's the right thing to do,” Zuckerberg said on CNN. Zuckerberg qualified his offer to testify by saying that it’s still unclear if he’s the right person to appear on Capitol Hill.

“What we try to do is send the person at Facebook who will have the most knowledge about what Congress is trying to learn. I would imagine at some point that there will be a topic where I am the sole authority on, and it will make sense for me to do it,” he said. 

Many lawmakers have said they want Zuckerberg to appear on Capitol Hill. The list of lawmakers calling for a Zuckerberg appearance in Congress includes the top Democrats on the Senate and House Intelligence committees, Warner and Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffOfficers offer harrowing accounts at first Jan. 6 committee hearing Live coverage: House panel holds first hearing on Jan. 6 probe Five things to watch as Jan. 6 panel begins its work MORE (D-Calif.), as well as Republicans such as Sens. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (La.) and Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranGraham: Bipartisan infrastructure pay-fors are insufficient This week: Democrats move forward with Jan. 6 probe Bipartisan senators ask CDC, TSA when they will update mask guidance for travelers MORE (Kan.). 

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) has said he’s willing to force Zuckerberg to testify if necessary.

"Mark Zuckerberg ought to be subpoenaed if he doesn’t appear voluntarily,” Blumenthal told reporters Monday.

Facebook is worried about the controversy — and should be

The Facebook CEO appeared visibly nervous at points during his CNN interview, signaling the gravity of the scandal for Facebook.

Facebook is feeling the pressure of the Cambridge Analytica revelations in a material way. In the days after the Cambridge Analytica stories appeared, the tech giant’s market capitalization dropped by $50 billion as its shares tanked. Zuckerberg’s personal net worth took a $9 billion hit. 

On Twitter, the hashtag #DeleteFacebook began trending. The cofounder of WhatsApp — the messaging company now owned by Facebook — tweeted “It is time. #deletefacebook.”

Meanwhile, Facebook’s Washington policy team met with six different Congressional committee staffers this week as pressure mounted on the company. 

More scrutiny is coming for Facebook apps

Facebook plans to audit the apps that have already collected a large amount of user data, Zuckerberg said Wednesday.

Zuckerberg said in a statement that Facebook would ban apps that do not comply with its audit requests.

“If we find developers that misused personally identifiable information, we will ban them and tell everyone affected by those apps. That includes people whose data [Aleksandr] Kogan misused here as well,” Zuckerberg said, referring to the professor who allegedly provided Cambridge Analytica with Facebook user data.

During his interview with CNN, Zuckerberg said he plans to be “conservative” about notifying users who may have potentially been affected by data breaches.

“Going forward when we identify apps that are similarly doing sketchy things, we're going to make sure that we tell people then, too. That's definitely something that looking back on this I regret that we didn't do at the time,” he said.

ADVERTISEMENT

In a post accompanying Zuckerberg’s Wednesday statement, the company explained that it would be taking six new steps to check user data that it had already offered to third parties and clamp down on the flow of user data in the future.

Zuckerberg hasn’t come clean yet about data mining 

The Facebook CEO is now under pressure to explain how prevalent data mining was on Facebook.

During interviews, he avoided providing direct answers to the possibility that other firms engaged in similar behavior.

“This is something that I think we now need to go figure out,” Zuckerberg said in his CNN interview.

“We're going to review thousands of apps. So this is going to be an intensive process, but this is important. I mean this is something that in retrospect we clearly should have done up front with Cambridge Analytica. We should not have trusted the certification they gave us, and we're not going to make that mistake again,” he said.

No other similar violations of Facebook’s data policies are publicly known, but experts The Hill spoke with say it’s possible that they exist given how easily Cambridge Analytica obtained the data.

ADVERTISEMENT

Zuckerberg also wasn’t able to answer questions about where data taken from its platform may have ended up.

When asked by Wired about whether the data could have been used by Russian groups to influence the 2016 election, Zuckerberg said he “can’t really say that.” 

“I hope that we will know that more certainly after we do an audit,” he added.