Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has accepted responsibility for the social network’s failure to protect private data and prevent manipulation of the platform, according to testimony released ahead of his first Congressional appearance. He said he was “responsible for” not preventing the platform from being used for harm, including fake news, foreign interference in elections and hate speech.
“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.
“I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.”
Zuckerberg will testify before senators on Tuesday and a House panel on Wednesday amid a firestorm over the hijacking of data on millions of Facebook users by the British firm Cambridge Analytica, which worked with Donald Trump’s campaign for the 2016 US Presidential election.
In his written remarks, Zuckerberg called Facebook “an idealistic and optimistic company” and said: “We focused on all the good that connecting people can bring.”
He, however, acknowledged that “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.”
Zuckerberg recounted a list of steps announced by Facebook aimed at averting a repeat of the improper use of data by third parties like Cambridge Analytica, and noted that other applications were also being investigated to determine if they did anything wrong.
“We’re in the process of investigating every app that had access to a large amount of information before we locked down our platform in 2014,” said Zuckerberg.
The Facebook head was seen on Capitol Hill Monday, where he is learnt to have met at least one lawmaker in private.
Facebook has also said outsiders took advantage of search tools on its platform, making it possible for them to collect personal information on most of its 2 billion users worldwide without the users’ explicit permission.
This was Zuckerberg’s latest apology for the personal data leak and he vowed to plug the vulnerabilities while attempting to defend himself by listing the company’s measures to protect user privacy in past years.
He said Facebook had changed the entire platform in 2014 to “dramatically limit the Facebook information apps could access”.
Facebook has been in a damage-control mode since the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the CEO has been writing about the steps being taken to correct that. Facebook has already announced that it is building new artificial tools (AI) tools and taking down thousands of fake accounts, besides verifying every political advertiser and large-page admin and launching ads transparency tools.
As the latest step in this regard, Zuckerberg Monday announced the social networking giant’s plans to establish an independent election research commission that will “solicit research on the effects of social media on elections and democracy” to prevent “interference and misinformation in elections”.
He said the objective was to get the ideas of leading academics on how to address such issues as well as to hold Facebook accountable for making sure “we protect the integrity of these elections on Facebook”.
“To do this, we’re working with foundations across the US to set up a committee of academic experts who will come up with research topics and select — through a peer review process — independent researchers to study them,” said Zuckerberg.
These researchers will be given access to Facebook resources so they can draw “unbiased conclusions” about Facebook’s role in polls, including how it’s handling the risks and what steps are needed in future. “They would share their work publicly…” said Zuckerberg.