Zuckerberg Back on Capitol Hill After Breezing Through Senate

 Andrew Soergel
  12th-Apr-2018

FACEBOOK CEO MARK Zuckerberg was in the hot seat for several hours during his Tuesday congressional testimony – and will be again Wednesday morning, when he is scheduled to appear before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

But he mostly didn't break a sweat over the course of the nearly five-hour hearing, as lawmakers at times struggled to define what Facebook is, how it makes money and what should be done to better protect user data in the wake of a Cambridge Analytica scandal believed to have compromised the personal information of roughly 87 million people with Facebook accounts.

Zuckerberg at one point even declined to take a break from the questioning, asking instead that he be allowed to keep going for another 15 minutes before taking a breather.

"Their questions were all over the map and sometimes ill-informed," USA Today's editorial board wrote of lawmakers' questions for Zuckerberg in the aftermath of the hearing, suggesting that Congress may fail to act simply because "they don't understand the issue well enough to provide a constructive response."

Indeed, some of the more than three dozen lawmakers who attended Tuesday's joint hearing before the Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees at times appeared baffled by how the social media giant works. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, at one point asked Zuckerberg how he "sustained a business model in which users don't pay for your services" after Zuckerberg had made several remarks about Facebook's advertising practices.

"Senator, we run ads," Zuckerberg said, to which Hatch simply responded: "I see." Hatch's office then tweeted while the hearing was still underway that "of course Facebook runs ads" and that "the real issue here is transparency."

Plenty of headlines were made throughout the course of the hearing: Zuckerberg confirmed that his company has worked with special counsel Robert Mueller in his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., announced that he and his colleagues have been talking about bringing Cambridge Analytica representatives to Capitol Hill for testimony.

But Zuckerberg – perhaps by virtue of the technologically complicated nature of his social media empire – was cool under pressure and was spared any particularly heated exchanges with lawmakers despite the big talk that went into Tuesday's hearing. Indeed, Thune noted in prepared remarks that it was "extraordinary" for a single CEO to appear before nearly half of the U.S. Senate for testimony.

Arguably the most intense exchange Zuckerberg weathered was with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas – and the back-and-forth itself was mostly tangential to Facebook's collection and use of user data. Cruz accused Facebook of exercising a "pervasive pattern of political bias" against Republicans for banning or not more prominently displaying certain conservative people and groups. Cruz specifically hit Zuckerberg and his company for allegedly suppressing a "Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day" Facebook page after the fast food company's owner spoke out against same-sex marriage – to which Zuckerberg acknowledged that Silicon Valley, in general, is "extremely left-leaning" but that political preferences haven't been a driving factor in Facebook censorship.

Cruz elected to mostly steer clear of Cambridge Analytica queries, which is itself notable, given his 2016 presidential campaign gave nearly $6 million to the research group, according to the Federal Election Commission. Indeed, Zuckerberg on Tuesday was mostly free to paint Cambridge Analytica as the bad guys in this situation, noting that the company had incorrectly told Facebook it had deleted the personal data of several million Facebook users that had been gathered without their consent.

The Federal Trade Commission is currently looking into whether Facebook's role in the data breach violates a privacy settlement the social media company agreed to back in 2011, so Zuckerberg isn't exactly out of the woods. But if Wednesday's hearing is anything like Tuesday's, Zuckerberg is unlikely to face much resistance from lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

And with Facebook's stock at times soaring more than 4 percent after Tuesday's hearing got underway, it appears investors have signaled their satisfaction with Zuckerberg's first day on Capitol Hill.

Zuckerberg at times appeared to advocate for new industry regulations – or at least a conversation focused on possible regulations that could be put in place. But whether lawmakers can wrap their heads around the social media space and eventually agree on a regulatory solution remains to be seen. A handful of mostly Republican lawmakers on Tuesday appeared to bristle at the idea of increased regulations, comparing potential government intervention in the tech sector to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which has been criticized in some circles for inappropriately punishing small and mid-sized banks.

"We don't want to overregulate to the point that we're stifling innovation and investment," said Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.

Still, several Democrats appeared eager to erect barriers given the number of privacy and data slip-ups Facebook has weathered over the last several years – a pattern Zuckerberg mostly attributed to the fact that he started a small social media platform in his college dorm room that rapidly expanded into one of the largest tech companies on the planet.

"The recent scandal is obviously frustrating, not only because it affected 87 million but that it seems to be part of a pattern of lax data practices going back years," said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., "If Facebook and other online companies will not or cannot fix these privacy invasions, then we will."

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Domain: Afterhours
Category: Entertainment
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