The Media Today

The Mark Zuckerberg Congressional Apology Tour rolls on

April 11, 2018

Tuesday probably should have been declared Mark Zuckerberg Day. It certainly was in the Senate, where the Facebook CEO appeared before a committee to talk about the recent data leak, and it could spill over into Wednesday, when he appears before a House of Representatives committee. Even before his testimony (which was not under oath), the Zuckerberg “charm initiative”—powered in part by a sharp black suit, instead of his ubiquitous gray T-shirt and jeans—seemed to be working on at least a few members of Congress (the stock price went up a bunch as well):

Related: Why a suit and tie won’t save Zuckerberg

When it comes to the substance of his remarks, Zuckerberg mostly said the same things he has said more than a dozen times over the past few years during similar situations. In a recent piece for Wired magazine, sociologist Zeynep Tufekci calls it “Zuckerberg’s 14-year apology tour,” and listed the highlights of the company’s on-again, off-again interest in privacy, starting with the 2006 controversy over the introduction of the News Feed. In his Tuesday statement, Zuckerberg plowed much the same ground:

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.

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The only real difference this time around was that Zuckerberg wasn’t just apologizing to Facebook users, he was testifying before Congress. And he wasn’t just apologizing for a few loose policies; he was admitting that Facebook simply wasn’t prepared for the idea that its users’ data might be used to target election ads, or that Russian trolls would hijack the platform to try to swing the results of the election, or that it might help fuel genocide in Myanmar. Does a “my bad” really cut it here?

What’s more than a little frustrating is that Zuckerberg’s apology statement was based on the idea that the company was just too darn naive, and too focused on all the good that Facebook can do in people’s lives. This might seem admirable, if it weren’t for the fact that literally dozens of researchers like Tufekci have been pointing out the potential dangers for years. Not to mention that there is a long history of negative outcomes on other platforms Facebook could have learned from.

Here’s more on Facebook’s troubled relationship with privacy:

  • Bug bounty: Facebook announced on Tuesday that it is offering a bounty of up to $40,000 to anyone who finds the next Cambridge Analytica—that is, an app that is misusing its permissions to take data it isn’t supposed to have. Examples must involve more than 10,000 users, the access of data without specific permission, and no prior knowledge by Facebook.
  • Siege mentality: Some Facebook workers think the outrage directed at their company has gotten overdone, according to The Wall Street Journal, and many believe the problems are being blown out of proportion by the media. Adam Mosseri, the head of Facebook’s News Feed, has said he’s afraid this lack of morale “will make it much more difficult to step up to the challenges we face.”
  • Zuck defender: Don Graham, the former publisher of The Washington Post, was an early mentor and advisor to Mark Zuckerberg, and has written a Facebook post defending his old friend. Graham says Zuckerberg is “someone of great decency and good character,” and that if he says Facebook will do something, “the company will do it (or at least, will try as hard as it can).”
  • Mea culpa: Meanwhile, Zuckerberg is still embroiled in fights apart from the data leak—one of the more serious being allegations that Facebook has been disinterested in the impact of the fake news it is distributing in wartorn countries such as Myanmar. The Facebook CEO has apologized to the country and promised to do better, but not everyone is convinced by the humility act.
  • Data timeline: If you haven’t really been paying attention to all of the ins and outs of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and how we got to the point where Mark Zuckerberg is testifying before Congress, CNBC has got what you need: The site has produced a timeline of events throughout the saga, dating back to the original introduction of the Facebook “open graph” project in 2010.


Other notable stories:

  • From the “closing-the-barn-door” department, Facebook has launched a research effort aimed at helping to study the impact of social media on election campaigns. Although some remain suspicious of the giant platform’s motivation, many experts have applauded Facebook’s desire to open up a bit more and share data with those outside its walled garden.
  • One of the largest pages on Facebook devoted to Black Lives Matter has turned out to be a fake, with ties to a middle-aged white man living in Australia, an investigation by CNN has found. The page had about 700,000 members—twice as many as the official BLM page—and raised at least $100,000, some of which CNN says was transferred to Australian bank accounts.
  • Chava Gourarie writes for CJR about a fascinating case involving Google and its fight against a ruling in a “right to be forgotten” case in Europe, where two anonymous individuals are trying to have their past indiscretions wiped from history. Google is arguing that by providing the details of such events in search, it is effectively functioning as a platform for journalism and is therefore protected.
  • An on-air personality at a Sinclair television station has resigned and his show has been cancelled after he made a statement in which he threatened to sexually assault Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg with “a hot poker.” The station announced that Jamie Allman had been terminated after an outcry from viewers and advertisers.
  • Dozens of journalists, as well as human rights advocates and members of various advocacy groups in Vietnam, have written an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg, accusing him of inappropriately suspending accounts and removing content belonging to human rights activists and journalists when asked to do so by the government of the country. Facebook has faced similar charges in Cambodia.

ICYMI: Google seeks to limit ‘right to be forgotten’ by claiming it’s journalistic

Mathew Ingram is CJR’s chief digital writer. Previously, he was a senior writer with Fortune magazine. He has written about the intersection between media and technology since the earliest days of the commercial internet. His writing has been published in the Washington Post and the Financial Times as well as by Reuters and Bloomberg.