Technology

Lawmakers say Zuckerberg has agreed to 'cooperate' with antitrust probe

Key Democratic and Republican lawmakers left their meetings with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Friday expressing confidence that he will cooperate with their ongoing antitrust investigation and that he understands the "gravity" of the issues facing his company.

Zuckerberg, clad in a dark suit and tie, met privately with the bipartisan House lawmakers leading an antitrust probe into Big Tech, as well as the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, which has been focusing on issues around social media and election interference.

The lawmakers' satisfaction marked a notable turnaround since the last time Zuckerberg embarked on a major visit to Washington in April 2018, when congressional leaders publicly lambasted him during two days of fiery hearings on Capitol Hill.

Zuckerberg swung through a series of meetings in the House on Friday after huddling with several of his top critics in the Senate and President Trump on Thursday.

The tech executive spent the week discussing election security, privacy and market dominance issues behind closed doors for his first publicly known visit to D.C. since the post-Cambridge Analytica congressional hearings last year.

On Friday, Rep. David Cicilline (R.I.), the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee's antitrust panel, told reporters that Zuckerberg "made a commitment to cooperate with the investigation" during their sit-down, which included Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and staffers.

"I look forward to his cooperation," Cicilline said, noting the investigation will include "document requests, requests for information, participation in a number of different ways."

"I take him at his word," added the Rhode Island Democrat, who has largely led the efforts into investigating the digital marketplace.

Nadler's office did not immediately respond to The Hill's request for comment.

Earlier in the day, Zuckerberg met with three powerful lawmakers, including the top Republican involved in the House Judiciary Committee's antitrust investigation, in a separate closed-door meeting.

Zuckerberg sat down with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee Doug Collins (R-Ga.) behind closed doors, sources confirmed.

McCarthy told reporters the meeting was "great," but declined to elaborate.

Walden, who is helping guide the efforts to draw up federal privacy legislation in the House, said the conversation was "positive and robust."

Collins said he discussed the antitrust investigation with Zuckerberg, emphasizing the tech CEO seemed "appreciative" that Collins and other members of the committee are working to get "information" rather than "coming at it from an angle of, 'Here's what we have to solve.' "

"He wants to have his company be in business and do the things that they want to do, but he's also very sensitive to the notions of privacy and bias and other things that people have concerns about," Collins told reporters. "They're open to that because they're in the marketplace and they see those pressures." 

Collins said Facebook has "always been very cooperative in questions we've had before."

Just last week, Collins, Nadler and Cicilline signed onto a slew of document requests to Facebook and other top tech companies. The bipartisan antitrust leaders are seeking documents that could be used to determine whether large tech corporations have used their dominant market positions to quash competitors.

Cicilline said he didn't discuss the specific document requests with Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg's charm offensive throughout the week comes as the government has ratcheted up its investigations into Facebook's size and market power.

Facebook has also spent over a year facing aggressive scrutiny over a barrage of privacy scandals, how it handles extremist content, the platform's failure to stave off election interference, and much more.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, met with Zuckerberg in the Capitol on Friday to discuss election interference on Facebook.

After their meeting, Schiff said he believes Zuckerberg "appreciates the gravity" of the concerns around deepfakes - manipulated video footage that can make it appear as though people said or did things they did not.

Schiff and other intelligence lawmakers have been pushing Facebook and other social media companies to do more on deepfakes, which can be used to spread disinformation around certain political candidates.

"I wanted to raise my profound concern about the issue of deepfake technology and how it might be used to disrupt our election," Schiff told reporters. "They are very aware of the threat that it poses. They are in the process of developing what I hope will be very strong policies on this."

The issue of deepfakes clamored into the spotlight earlier this year when Facebook declined to take down a user-posted video of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that was slowed down and edited to make it appear as though she was slurring her words. The hundreds of comments on the video indicated viewers thought the video showed Pelosi in real time. Shortly after, President Trump also shared a video to Twitter that was edited to make it seem like Pelosi was stumbling over her words.

The videos of Pelosi were not deepfakes, as they did not edit the content of her remarks, but they reignited a larger conversation about how social media companies deal with manipulated footage, something that is expected to play a growing role in the upcoming presidential election.

Zuckerberg continually declined to answer questions as a throng of reporters followed him from meeting to meeting on Capitol Hill this week.

While the effort to reach out to lawmakers appeared to work with some members, at least one senator - Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) - left his sit-down with Zuckerberg unconvinced.

"There's a lot of words that emanate from Facebook," Hawley told reporters after meeting with Zuckerberg for over an hour on Wednesday. "The company talks a lot. I'd like to see some action."

Zuckerberg's visit comes as the company is facing antitrust probes from both the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice, as well as the House, while lawmakers in both chambers mull legislation that could curtail how Facebook collects and uses data.

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