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Two days of hearings are expected to attract more attention than some of the most storied appearances on Capitol Hill – from the Church Committee and Watergate hearings to the Iran Contra and Benghazi testimonies. Few witnesses in US legislative hearing history have had the social profile, youthfulness or wealth of Zuckerberg, or the kind of worldwide presence and recognition his social media company has.
Zuckerberg, 33, is scheduled to testify before the Senate Commerce and Judiciary committees on Tuesday and the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday, mainly to explain how Facebook uses and protects “user data” after news broke that data firm Cambridge Analytica harvested data from tens of millions of users of the social networking site .
The Facebook founder has already struck a conciliatory note ahead of the Congressional hearings.
“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,” Zuckerberg said in his written testimony released by a House of Representatives panel.
“It’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm as well,” he acknowledged in his written remarks. “That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy.”
Facebook, following several mea culpas conceding it was lax, was expected on Monday to inform some 87 million users through data-use notices if their personal data was breached.
At least one user didn’t wait for the notice. Apple CEO Steve Wozniak became the latest tech celebrity to shut down his Facebook account, saying the company makes a lot of advertising money from personal details provided by users but the users get none of the profits back. Wozniak said the difference between Facebook and Apple, another company that rakes in money with high-priced products is that “Apple makes money off of good products, not off of you.”
All these issues are expected to come up before lawmakers, many of whom are recipients of campaign cash from tech companies. According to one account, Facebook and political groups associated with the social media company have donated roughly $381,000 to 46 of the 55 members on the House Energy and Commerce Committee since 2007.
Some lawmakers blame Congress for being too lax in its oversight. “I put more blame on Congress. I mean, we shouldn’t rely on 30-year-old entrepreneurs to come up with legal frameworks for protecting our national security or protecting American citizens. This is an area where Congress, I think, has been derelict, and where we need to step up and do our jobs,” Ro Khanna, the Indian-American Congressman who represents Silicon Valley, and is endorsed by many tech companies, including Facebook, told National Public Radio.
Zuckerberg meanwhile said in a Facebook post Monday said the company will establish “an independent election research commission” to solicit research on the effects of social media on elections and democracy. “The goal is both to get the ideas of leading academics on how to address these issues as well as to hold us accountable for making sure we protect the integrity of these elections on Facebook,” he said, amid mounting concern across the world on private issues and data breaches.
Zuckerberg arrived on the Hill on Monday for private pre-hearing meetings with lawmakers amid reports that Facebook had hired several experts to coach him on testimony, including conducting mock-hearings and possible questions that may come up at the hearing. The social media honcho has reportedly been told to “be humble, agreeable and as forthright as possible” before lawmakers, the conservatives among whom believe Facebook is a liberal outpost that drowns out rightwing activism.
Although President Trump has not directly attacked Facebook like he has done with Amazon, his economic advisor Larry Kudlow had a word of advice for Zuckerberg ahead of the hearing: “I am tired of his t-shirt and hoodie,” Kudlow said, hoping the Facebook founder would wear a suit.