Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg is prepared to face the music over user privacy, his prepared statements to Congress show.
After 14 years of touting Facebook as a tool to bring people together, Zuckerberg is scheduled to tell the Senate and House committees this week that the website caused a whole lot of harm in doing so. The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Monday released Zuckerberg’s prepared statements, which he will echo on Wednesday after attending the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
In the aftermath of the 2016 election, Russian interference helped by social media platforms was made public. And three long weeks ago, a whistleblower exposed how Cambridge Analytica, a consultant firm, use easily-gathered Facebook data of about 87 million people to influence voters with precision. Now, Zuckerberg is formally explaining himself to country leaders.
“We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake,” reads his statement. “It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.”
Facebook has been scrambling to win back user trust since the scandal erupted, announcing that it would implement changes like labeling political ads and verifying pages with many followers. Though it only takes one Facebook user to expose their friends’ data, users have since been encouraged to change their privacy and advertisement settings.
Zuckerberg goes on to detail how Facebook intertwined with the election interference and misuse of private data, even lending support to legislation to prevent a repetition of Russian ads aimed at other voters. Ultimately, he admits the company didn’t plan accordingly to avoid the website being used in a harmful way.
“My top priority has always been our social mission of connecting people, building community and bringing the world closer together,” Zuckerberg states, “Advertisers and developers will never take priority over that as long as I’m running Facebook.”
The apology tour is a shift for Zuckerberg, who said in 2016 that it was “crazy” to suggest Facebook influenced the election before regretting the sentiment. Along with the CEOs of Google and Twitter, he did not appear face-to-face at hearings in October regarding Russian election interference.
Between the Cambridge Analytica scandal, American elections influenced by a defiant adversary, and deliberate misinformation on social media sites, there are enough existential crises to our democracy. This week’s hearings present the latest chance to make things right going forward.