Facebook’s Zuckerberg prepares to testify. What will we learn?

Mark Zuckerberg, the 33-year-old billionaire who founded what’s become one of the most powerful forces in information and technology, has never testified before Congress. That will change this afternoon, when he begins two days of answering lawmakers’ questions about the social network he built, and whether it has done enough to protect our data and our democracy.

“The insularity that shielded Zuckerberg from having to directly defend Facebook in front of lawmakers and regulators has finally cracked,” writes The Washington Post’s Elizabeth Dwoskin. “Whether Facebook—and other tech giants, including Google and Twitter—faces more regulation hangs in part on what he says during two long hearings.”

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We know, at least in part, what he will say. According to prepared remarks released Monday, Zuckerberg will take responsibility for Facebook’s tools being used to spread fake news and allow for foreign interference in elections, in addition to not doing enough to safeguard consumer privacy. “We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake,” his remarks read. “It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.”

Though the proximate cause for Zuckerberg’s appearance is fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal, first reported by The Guardian and The New York Times last month, lawmakers are expected to push beyond the scope of that issue to question Zuckerberg on a variety of topics. The pressure to rein in the power of tech companies, whose influence and power is only beginning to be understood by those outside the industry, has never been greater. Zuckerberg’s time on the Hill provides an opportunity for media focus and special reports, but critics have been pointing out the problems at the heart of Facebook for years.

The Facebook CEO has been on what, for him, amounts to a media blitz recently, sitting down with Vox’s Ezra Klein and speaking with reporters on a conference call. Lawmakers will be tasked with pushing Zuckerberg beyond the contrition and somewhat vague promises he offered in those interviews, and forcing him to address some of the very foundations upon which his company is built.

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Related: The Facebook Armageddon

Below, more on what to expect from Zuckerberg’s testimony.

  • Too late to apologize?: For The New York Times, Zeynep Tufekci, one of Facebook’s most prominent academic critics, argues that we don’t actually need answers from Zuckerberg. “We already know most everything we need for legislators to pass laws that would protect us from what Facebook has unleashed,” she writes.
  • What’s at stake: The Verge’s Casey Newton writes that the stakes couldn’t be higher, with critics on the right, left, and from within the tech industry all battering Facebook’s decision-making and business model.
  • How to watch: Wired’s Brian Barrett has details on how to watch the testimony and, more importantly, what to watch for.
  • Beyond privacy concerns: The New York Times’s Andrew Ross Sorkin argues that the public has already shown it doesn’t care about privacy. “The reality is that when it comes to privacy, the trade-off has already been made: We decided long ago to give away our personal information in exchange for free content and the ability to interact seamlessly with others.”
  • Fact-checking failures: As Mike Ananny describes for CJR, Facebook’s attempts to get ahead of regulation aren’t as successful as its PR team would have us believe.

 

Other notable stories

  • As cable news covered the FBI raid of the office, home, and hotel room of President Trump’s personal lawyer, “the president spent much of Monday afternoon glued to the television,” according to The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey, and Robert Costa. Without lead attorney John Dowd, who resigned last month, “Trump has absorbed some advice from a number of legal commentators on cable news,” they report.
  • For The Intercept, Johnny Dwyer and Ryan Gallagher report on how the Assad regime tracked and killed legendary journalist Marie Colvin for reporting on war crimes in Syria. “Three factors came together to create the conditions for the attack,” they write. “The regime’s intent to target journalists, its access to powerful surveillance capabilities, and an absence of international political will to prevent atrocities in Syria.”
  • The Daily Beast’s Maxwell Tani reports that Gizmodo Media Group CEO Raju Narisetti is leaving the company. Narisetti told staff that he was departing in a move that “made structural sense for GMG,” but Tani reports that he was pushed out as part of “a series of top-level changes that signal Univision is likely to become deeply involved in GMG operations.” Narisetti had overseen the sites of the former Gawker Media empire since they were acquired by Univision in 2016.
  • For CJR, Tony Rehagen profiles Sarah Kendzior, whose reporting from the heartland and expertise in authoritarianism have made her a sought after figure in the Trump era, even as she has been criticized as an alarmist or partisan. “Whether it’s because she’s a woman, a freelancer working outside the coastal media echo chamber, an academic who sometimes pushes the boundaries between editorializing and straight reporting, or a doomsayer,” Rehagen writes, “it sometimes seems to her and some of her colleagues that her actual credentials are being overlooked by the mainstream.”
  • NiemanLab’s Ken Doctor hopes that the defiance shown by The Denver Post’s newsroom is a harbinger of things to come. “In The Denver Post’s awakening, we see the press finally calling B.S. on the B.S. that’s been right under its nose for so long,” he writes. “While we can fete the courage act in Denver, the actions demands the question: What now?”

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Pete Vernon is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.