Mark Zuckerberg: Facebook Made Mistakes on ‘Fake News,’ Privacy

WASHINGTON— Facebook Inc. FB 0.46% Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg will tell lawmakers this week that his company “didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility” and will lay out steps to make it right, following revelations about the abuse of users’ personal information and election interference by Russian operatives.

“As Facebook has grown, people everywhere have gotten a powerful new tool to stay connected to the people they love, make their voices heard, and build communities and businesses,” Mr. Zuckerberg says, in prepared testimony released by a House committee on Monday. “But it’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm as well.”

His testimony continues what amounts to an apology tour that he started after the disclosure that user data was improperly shared by an analytics firm tied to the 2016 campaign of President Donald Trump. Last week, Facebook disclosed that data from as many as 87 million of its users may have been improperly shared, up from the 50 million previously reported.

Mr. Zuckerberg is scheduled to testify on Capitol Hill on Tuesday at a hearing hosted by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and the Judiciary Committee, and then Wednesday before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Facebook said Mr. Zuckerberg would deliver the same prepared testimony at each hearing.


On a series of issues including “fake news,” interference in elections and hate speech, he says in the prepared testimony: “We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake.”

Mr. Zuckerberg adds: “It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.”

In visiting Capitol Hill, Mr. Zuckerberg is venturing into hostile territory that is a world apart from the tightly scripted venues to which he is accustomed. The 33-year-old billionaire will have his composure tested by sharp questioning from lawmakers, some of whom say that Mr. Zuckerberg’s mea culpas aren’t enough.

“It’s really a kind of high noon for Mark Zuckerberg,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.), a member of the Senate panel that will query the CEO on Tuesday. “He has to have a better answer than just, ‘I made a mistake.’ He didn’t just spill milk on the breakfast table. There is a more fundamental issue related to Facebook’s business model—they sell your information without your consent. That’s what has to change,” Sen. Blumenthal said in an interview.

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Facebook’s current data crisis involving Cambridge Analytica has angered users and prompted government investigations. To understand what’s happening now, you have to look back at Facebook’s old policies from 2007 to 2014. WSJ’s Shelby Holliday explains. Illustration: Laura Kammerman

Facebook is under fire for a range of perceived offenses, including helping to spread disinformation and allowing Cambridge Analytica, a London-based firm with ties to the Trump campaign, to access information from tens of millions of user profiles. Among other things, legislators will likely probe whether Facebook, which has more than two billion monthly users world-wide, violated a consent order with the Federal Trade Commission requiring the company to safeguard user data.

In February, Russian companies and individuals were charged in the U.S. with engaging in a widespread effort to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, using Facebook and other social-media platforms.

Mr. Zuckerberg’s prepared testimony lays out steps the company has taken to prevent abuse of users’ data and to protect elections from interference. He says the company’s security and content-review staffing will reach 20,000 by year-end, and notes that the move will “significantly impact our profitability going forward” as user safety takes priority.

The steps Facebook is taking include limiting the amount of personal information that developers can access when a user approves a particular application. Under the new policy, developers will only be able to access a user’s name, profile photo and email address—and will have to obtain additional approval and abide by new requirements in order to ask users to access their posts or other private data.

Facebook is also requiring advertisers seeking to run ads on divisive political issues to go through an authorization process. The move could help prevent the spread of disinformation, because advertising was one way Russian-backed trolls attempted to sow divisions at the time of the 2016 U.S. election

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Lawmakers have asked Facebook whether other firms may also have engaged in the same practices as Cambridge Analytica. Mr. Zuckerberg says in his prepared testimony that Facebook is looking into the matter and is “in the process of investigating every app that had access to a large amount of information” before the company tightened its policies in 2014. “If we detect suspicious activity, we’ll do a full forensic audit. And if we find that someone is improperly using data, we’ll ban them and tell everyone affected,” he says.

How far that will go in assuaging lawmakers is unclear.

“The question that they have so far been unable to answer is, ‘How many Cambridge Analyticas are there?’ ” Mr. Blumenthal said. “Either they truly don’t know or they’re unwilling to tell—I don’t know which is more damning.”

On Monday, Mr. Zuckerberg met privately with senators, including Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, and its top Democrat, California’s Sen. Dianne Feinstein. He also met with Sen. Bill Nelson, telling him that Facebook had been lied to by Cambridge Analytica, the Florida Democrat said.

Mr. Nelson said he had won a commitment from the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee to bring the data firm in for a separate hearing. A committee spokesman couldn’t immediately confirm such plans.

Cambridge denies using data that it wasn’t authorized to have as part of its work on the 2016 presidential election.

“When Facebook contacted us to let us know the data had been improperly obtained, we immediately deleted the raw data from our file server, and began the process of searching for and removing any of its derivatives in our system,” the company said in a statement last week. “When Facebook sought further assurances a year ago, we carried out an internal audit to make sure that all the data, all derivatives, and all backups had been deleted, and gave Facebook a certificate to this effect.”

—Byron Tau contributed to this article.

Write to Siobhan Hughes at

Appeared in the April 10, 2018, print edition as ‘Zuckerberg Says Sorry for Harm Done.’

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