Zuckerberg tells senators Facebook is in ‘arms race’ with U.S. adversaries
Telling senators that Facebook is getting better at using artificial intelligence to identify fake foreign accounts that may be trying to interfere in elections and spread misinformation, CEO Mark Zuckerberg also describes the struggle against foreign adversaries who are seeking to exploit the platform as an “arms race.”
“People will measure us on our success (in protecting their privacy). People will see real differences.” Mark Zuckerberg
WASHINGTON – Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told a Senate panel Tuesday that the giant social media company is in “an arms race” with Russia and other foreign adversaries that seek to exploit the platform to influence U.S. elections.
Zuckerberg said Facebook is getting better at using artificial intelligence to identify fake Facebook accounts that may try to interfere in elections and spread misinformation. Russian companies with ties to the Kremlin used fake accounts to try to sow division among U.S. voters in the 2016 election, according to Facebook.
“I have more confidence that we’re going to get this right,” Zuckerberg told Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. He said Facebook identified and removed fake accounts that were trying to interfere in elections in France and Germany and in Alabama’s special U.S. Senate election
As Facebook gets better at identifying and taking down the fake foreign accounts, groups in Russia and other countries get better at trying to fool Facebook, Zuckerberg said.
“So this is an arms race,” he said. The 33-year-old CEO acknowledged that he’s “made a lot of mistakes in running the company” and is working to restore people’s faith in Facebook after revelations that the personal information of as many as 87 million users was breached.
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune, R-S.D., charged that Facebook has a poor record of protecting its users’ privacy.
“After more than a decade of promises to do better, why should we trust Facebook on privacy?” Thune asked.
Zuckerberg said the company is learning to be more proactive to make sure its platform is used for good and not usurped by bad actors.
“At the end of the day, this is going to be something where people will measure us on our success (in protecting their privacy),” he said. “People will see real differences.”
Zuckerberg’s appearance before Congress on Tuesday was his first. He sought to apologize for high-profile privacy breaches at Facebook and convince doubtful lawmakers that he can fix the problem without government intervention.
Zuckerberg is trying to restore public confidence after revelations that information from up to 87 million Facebook users was shared with Cambridge Analytica, a data mining firm used by the Trump campaign in the 2016 election. The information was shared without users’ knowledge.
“The industry needs to work with Congress to determine if and how we need to strengthen privacy standards to ensure transparency for billions of consumers,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. “We can’t undo the damage that’s been done, but we can work together in setting new rules of the road for our data.”
Zuckerberg faced hours of questioning Tuesday before a joint hearing of 44 senators who make up the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. He will return Wednesday morning to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Zuckerberg traded in his usual gray T-shirt and jeans for a suit to appear before the Senate committees and faced a swarm of news photographers, who surrounded the witness table.
Protesters set up about 100 life-size cutouts of Zuckerberg outside the Capitol. The T-shirts on the cardboard Zuckerbergs read, “fix fakebook.”
The Cambridge Analytica scandal comes after last year’s news that a Russian company bought ads and placed false news stories on Facebook in an effort to sow dissension among U.S. voters. Zuckerberg initially scoffed at the idea that Russia exploited the social media platform, then apologized after discovering that Russian companies spent $100,000 on 3,000 ads before, during and after the 2016 election.
In his opening statement Tuesday, Zuckerberg apologized again.
“We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake,” Zuckerberg said. “It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.”
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican in Senate leadership, said apologies are not enough.
“Facebook and other social media platforms need to come clean with the American people,” Cornyn said in a speech before Tuesday’s hearing. “These companies must back up their words with actions that better safeguard the American consumer.
“Perhaps we should treat social media platforms as information fiduciaries and impose legal obligations on them, as we do with lawyers and doctors who are privy to some of our most personal private information,” Cornyn said.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appears for a scolding by senators Tuesday.