Washington: There is an online propaganda “arms race” with Russia and the most important thing right now is to make sure no one interferes in the upcoming elections globally, vowed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg during the five-hour marathon session at the US Congress.
“The most important thing I care about right now is making sure no one interferes in the various 2018 elections around the world,” he testified before a 44-Senator panel.
“As long as there are people sitting in Russia whose job it is to try and interfere with elections around the world, this is going to be an ongoing conflict,” the 33-year-old billionaire said.
Facebook’s stock was up about two per cent even before Zuckerberg sat down. It moved even higher when he started addressing the questions from lawmakers and finished the day with a 4.5 per cent gain.
Zuckerberg accepted that the company did not do enough to prevent the platform from being used to harm others.
In his opening remarks, he said: Facebook is an idealistic and optimistic company. For most of our existence, we focused on all of the good that connecting people can do.
“But it’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used as harm as well.”
“That goes for fake news, for interference in elections and we didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility and that was a big mistake and it was my mistake and I’m sorry,” the Facebook CEO noted.
With 44 senators asking questions, and just five minutes of time allotted for each, there was limited potential for follow-up questions to and grilling of the CEO.
His apology came as Facebook faced a widening scandal where a British political consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica improperly gathered detailed information on 87 million of its users.
“It’s not enough to just connect people. We have to make sure those connections are positive. It’s not enough to give people a voice. We have to make sure people aren’t using it to harm people or spread disinformation,” Zuckerberg told senators.
Facebook was getting to the bottom of exactly what Cambridge Analytica did and telling everyone affected.
“What we know now is that Cambridge Analytica improperly accessed information by buying it. When we first contacted Cambridge Analytica, they told us they had deleted the data,” Zuckerberg cleared.
He said that the company made big changes in the platform in 2014 that have prevented this specific situation with Cambridge Analytica from occurring again on Wednesday.
Zuckerberg confirmed that his company is cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller in his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.
When asked by Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy while he testified on Capitol Hill whether Facebook had been served subpoenas for the special counsel, Zuckerberg responded “yes,” but later clarified: “I am actually not aware of a subpoena. I’m aware that there may be, but we are working with them.”
When asked if his employees had been interviewed, he also responded yes, but added, “I have not”, reports CNN.
He continued: “I want to be careful here because our work with the special counsel is confidential and I want to make sure that in an open session I’m not revealing something that is confidential.”
Senator John Thune, a Republican from South Dakota, asked Zuckerberg if he’s willing to make a commitment to protect political speech from “all different corners”.
Zuckerberg agreed and said: “If there’s an imminent threat of harm, we’re going to take a conservative position on that and make sure that we flag that and understand that more broadly,” he said.
“I don’t want anyone at our company to make any decisions based on the political ideology of the content,” he added.
On a question if Facebook has a political bias, he said that the platform’s goal was not to engage political speech.
Zuckerberg said he understands the concerns, especially because “Facebook and tech industry is located in Silicon Valley, which is an extremely left-leaning place”.
But he said he tries to make sure Facebook does not have any bias in the work that it does.
Zuckerberg is scheduled to again testify, this time before a House panel, on Wednesday.