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.
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.
Here are some of the key statements delivered by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg during yesterday’s Congress grilling.
Mark Zuckerberg (MZ): “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. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.
“It will take some time to work through all the changes we need to make across the company. I’m committed to getting this right. This includes the basic responsibility of protecting people’s information, which we failed to do with Cambridge Analytica.”
“We’re investigating every single app that had access to a large amount of information in the past. And if we find that someone improperly used data, we’re going to ban them from Facebook and tell everyone affected.
MZ: “One of my greatest regrets in running the company is that we were slow in identifying the Russian information operations in 2016.”
MZ: “There are people in Russia whose job it is to try to exploit our systems and other internet systems…. So this is an arms race. They’re going to keep getting better and we need to invest in getting better at this too.”
Limits of right to privacy
Senator Dick Durbin (DD): “Would you be comfortable sharing with us the name of the hotel you stayed in last night?”
MZ: “Um, uh, no.”
DD: “If you messaged anybody this week, would you share with us the names of the people you’ve messaged?”
MZ:: “Senator, no, I would probably not choose to do that publicly here.”
DD: “I think that may be what this is all about: your right to privacy, the limits of your right to privacy, and how much you give away in modern America in the name of ‘connecting people around the world.'”
Asked if Facebook executives have been interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the US election, Zuckerberg said: “Our work with the special counsel is confidential…. I actually am not aware of a subpoena. I believe there may be, but I know we’re working with them.”
“I know we did help out the Trump campaign overall in sales support in the same way we do with other campaigns.”
Source: The Guardian, Al Jazeera