In preparing for a public beating, it helps to show up with a few self-inflicted bruises. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will testify later this week before Congress, but Reuters got an advance copy of his opening statement to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Zuckerberg starts off by telling the panel that “Facebook is an idealistic and optimistic company,” and offers a sunny take on all the happiness it brings into the world:
For most of our existence, we focused on all the good that connecting people can bring. As Facebook has grown, people everywhere have gotten a powerful new tool to stay connected to the people they love, make their voices heard, and build communities and businesses. Just recently, we’ve seen the #metoo movement and the March for Our Lives, organized, at least in part, on Facebook. After Hurricane Harvey, people raised more than $20 million for relief. And more than 70 million small businesses now use Facebook to grow and create jobs.
Zuckerberg then shifts immediately into an apology for … well, several things:
But it’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm as well. That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy. We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.
Give him credit, at least, for avoiding the non-apology apology. Zuckerberg essentially throws himself under his own bus with a “buck stops here” approach, one that had been curiously missing for at least the opening week or so of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Having discovered that the scandal was not going away, Zuckerberg — and to a lesser extent his COO Sheryl Sandberg — has decided to take a Harry Truman approach.
However, there is a hint that Zuckerberg is playing for time, too:
It will take some time to work through all of the changes we need to make, but I’m committed to getting it right. That includes improving the way we protect people’s information and safeguard elections around the world.
That’s not an unreasonable point, but it’s going to be interesting to see whether the House panel buys it. Bear in mind that the alleged data abuse by Cambridge Analytica — which still claims that it followed Facebook’s own rules — took place nearly three years ago. Nearly a month after it was finally exposed, Facebook is just now getting around to informing the users impacted by it. And they’re not making that notification very direct, either:
The social media giant is expected today to begin notifying up to 87 million users whose personal information was accessed by a political consultancy that worked for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Facebook plans to place a link at the top of each user’s news feed informing them if their data was “improperly shared” in the so-called Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Er … why not just send a notification e-mail to each of the users instead? What’s the point of sticking that in users’ news feeds, other than maybe allowing it to get lost in the shuffle? I’ve been checking my news feed off and on, assuming that I probably got sucked up into the friends-of-friends vacuuming, with nothing yet posted. Not that I’m terribly worried about it one way or the other, but I’m probably not typical in that sense, since I’ve long been aware that I’m the product and not the customer on that platform. Those more concerned about the breach may have a tough time figuring out whether they’ve been victimized by it or not.
The rest of Zuckerberg’s statement mostly just recapitulates the messaging from Facebook over the last two weeks. It presents a little more detail but few new developments. Whether that’ll be enough to keep the House panel from shredding Zuckerberg is anyone’s guess, but it’ll likely be a long time before anyone speculates on his presidential ambitions again.
On the other hand, Zuckerberg appears to have mastered the presidential skill of omission:
Good thing no major politician or data firm did any mining during those years or this would all seem slightly partisan and incomplete.
— Stephen Miller (@redsteeze) April 9, 2018