Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is set to testify in front of three congressional committees and, despite a last-ditch media charm offensive, it’s shaping up to be a good old-fashioned, bipartisan grilling.
The fun starts for Zuckerberg tomorrow at the Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees Tuesday afternoon and continues on Wednesday at the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Zuckerberg spent part of Monday on Capitol Hill speaking to individual members of Congress–including Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune and Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley.
Judging by his prepared testimony and congressmen who have already spoken about the upcoming hearings, it looks like Zuckerberg will be grilled on a number of topics–ranging from user data privacy to Russian interference.
Zuckerberg’s testimony in particular outlined the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the social network’s role in disseminating content from Russian-based organizations. It was revealed by whistleblower Christopher Wylie earlier this year that Cambridge Analytica had been misusing the personal data of 50 million Facebook users to conduct political ad targeting work. That number was later increased to 87 million after Facebook conducted further analysis.
A 2011 Federal Trade Commission settlement may also come into play tomorrow, as the FTC alleged that Facebook violated the privacy terms with its users–including how much personal data third-party apps on the site could access.
“It’s really a kind of high noon for Mark Zuckerberg,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), who will sitting at the Zuckerberg hearing, told the Wall Street Journal. “He has to have a better answer than just, ‘I made a mistake.’ He didn’t just spill milk on the breakfast table. There is a more fundamental issue related to Facebook’s business model—they sell your information without your consent. That’s what has to change,”
The testimony also touched Russia-linked groups APT28 and Internet Research Agency’s use of the social platform. Executives from Facebook already testified before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee last year on Russian disinformation, but the issue is likely to be rehashed due to Zuckerberg owning up to not taking a “broad enough view of our responsibility.”
“It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here,” he wrote.
Political bias on Facebook may also get some air time tomorrow, as former employees alleged in 2016 that the platform suppressed content with a conservative political lean. Facebook’s research on the political implications within their feed were reinforced in 2015, when the company found that the news stories people see “are in fact skewed toward their ideological preferences.”
Sen. Ted Cruz said he was “very concerned” about a potential anti-right bias on the platform. Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) echoed Cruz’s sentiments, saying, "Our promised digital utopia turned out not to be all the land of milk and honey.”
You can watch a live stream of Tuesday's hearing on the Senate Judiciary website starting at 2:15 PM ET.
You can watch a stream of Wednesday's hearing on the House Energy and Commerce website.