Mark Zuckerberg vows to fight election meddling in marathon Senate grilling

Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook chief executive, warned on Tuesday of an online propaganda “arms race” with Russia and vowed that fighting interference in elections around the world is now his top priority.

Here are some key takeaways from the Senate hearing:

Here are some key takeaways from the Senate hearing:

  • Unspecified Facebook employees that did not include Mark Zuckerberg have been questioned by the special counsel office of Robert Mueller for the Russian interference in US 2016 elections.
  • Facebook was accused of violating an order of Federal Trade Commission issued in 2011 for sharing private information without user consent. Zuckerberg denied the accusation by saying that users technically consented to it when we explained how it worked.
  • There will always be a version of Facebook that is free, however, Facebook might consider offering a subscription-based, ad-free option for users. Mark Zuckerberg believes that ad model is right for Facebook but they can certainly consider other ideas.
  • Zuckerberg indicated that most users do not read the terms of services when signing up for the social network when they have the opportunity to do so. They simply consent to it.
  • Facebook is still investigating the Cambridge Analytica breach and auditing if someone else had harvested user data. However, they do not have specific knowledge of Russia or China scraping data and building profiles on yours.
  • Zuckerberg had to explain thrice that Facebook does not sell user data.
  • Facebook was also grilled for its perceived political bias pertaining to the closure of right-wing pages and suppression of conservative news stories.
  • When Zuckerberg refused to share the name of the hotel he was staying, the top Democratic Senator commented,
    “I think that might be what this is all about. Your right to privacy, the limits of your right to privacy, and how much you’d give away in modern America.”

The 33-year-old billionaire, during testimony that lasted nearly five hours, was speaking to Congress in what was widely seen as a moment of reckoning for America’s tech industry. It came in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal in which, Facebook has admitted, the personal information of up to 87 million users were harvested without their permission.

Zuckerberg’s comments gave an insight into the unnerving reach and influence of Facebook in numerous democratic societies. “The most important thing I care about right now is making sure no one interferes in the various 2018 elections around the world,” he said under questioning by Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico.

The senator made reference to a billboard displayed earlier in the hearing that showed images – including Trump, the Green Party candidate Jill Stein and the Confederate flag – allegedly spread online by Russian operatives during the 2016 presidential election. He asked if Zuckerberg could guarantee such images would not appear on Facebook again.

“Senator, no, I can’t guarantee that because this is an ongoing arms race,” the CEO said. “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.”

Earlier in the hearing, Zuckerberg acknowledged that “one of my greatest regrets in running the company” was being slow to uncover and act against disinformation campaigns by Russian trolls during the election.

The blockbuster joint hearing of the US Senate’s commerce and judiciary committees on Capitol Hill was a humbling moment for the young entrepreneur. Wearing a suit, white shirt and sky blue tie instead of his customary T-shirt, he sat contrite and silent as senator after senator expressed deep concerns about the company’s gathering of personal information.

Senator Bill Nelson, a Democrat, told him: “Let me just cut to the chase. If you and other social media companies do not get your act in order, none of us are going to have any privacy anymore. If Facebook and other online companies will not or cannot fix the privacy invasions, then we are going to have to. We, the Congress.”

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