The CEO of the world’s largest social network will testify before Congress next week. Maybe he’ll answer our burning questions.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg did something this week he hardly ever does: He took questions from reporters on a call and invited others to listen in.
The call on Wednesday came more than two weeks after news broke about Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm that harvested data of up to 87 million Facebook users without their permission. Zuckerberg’s company has been in the hot seat ever since, facing questions about how it handles information on the 2 billion people who use its network. After fessing up to the scandal last week in blog posts and a few interviews, Zuckerberg decided to be more open and host an hour-long media call to answers questions about how he’s trying to fix the situation.
If you don’t feel like reading the call’s transcript, here’s what went down. Zuckerberg apologized for the scandal and took sole blame for it, noting that he hasn’t fired anyone over the mishandled data. He addressed data protection rules in Europe. He said he’d been “too flippant” when he dismissed reports that Russian groups, among others, were planting fake news on Facebook to sway US voters in the 2016 presidential election. (In fact, two days after that election, he called the influence of fake news on the outcome a “pretty crazy idea.”)
Zuckerberg also said he’s still the right person to lead Facebook, despite calls this week from a prominent investor that he step down as board chairman.
“Life is about learning from the mistakes and figuring out what you need to do to move forward,” said Zuckerberg, who is 33. “The reality of a lot of this is that when you are building something like Facebook that is unprecedented in the world, there are going to be things that you mess up.”
Zuckerberg will need to stay in an answering mood. He’s set to testify before Congress in hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday. Lawmakers are expected to grill Zuckerberg on everything from Facebook’s data practices to possible regulation of the company’s ad business — the primary source of its revenue and profit.
While he covered a lot of ground this week, there are questions Zuckerberg didn’t answer. Here are six for him specifically. We contacted Facebook about these issues, but the company didn’t respond. So we are offering our own commentary below each one.
1. Why should Facebook users keep trusting and believing you when it comes to privacy?
Facebook waited years to disclose what happened with Cambridge Analytica, and it only came clean after it learned that The New York Times and the UK’s Guardian and Observer newspapers were about to publish stories. Why should users trust the company to be forthright at this point? In an interview with TechRepublic, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said the social network is already losing that trust.
Trust factor is key because Facebook’s business depends on people feeling comfortable enough to share information within the social network. If that trust disappears, so does the influx of data and, with it, Facebook’s ad business.
2. Is Facebook just too big and complicated for you and your team to manage?
Facebook draws more than 2 billion people a month. That’s almost twice as big as the biggest nations. Zuckerberg said the company will hire 20,000 people to work on security and content moderation. Is that enough? He also said Facebook will look to use artificial intelligence in the future to help police Facebook, but acknowledged it would be years before the technology is good enough to be dependable at a large scale. This brings us to the next question.
3. You said it will take “years” to fix Facebook. Can we wait that long?
Elections continue to happen, and bad actors continue to try to manipulate voters using Facebook and other social media platforms. Zuckerberg said his company will “never fully solve security — it’s an arms race.” But it feels like we’re all just waiting for the next disaster.