LIVE: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is testifying to Congress

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (C) leaves the office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) after meeting with Feinstein on Capitol Hill on April 9, 2018 in Washington, DC.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (C) leaves the office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) after meeting with Feinstein on Capitol Hill on April 9, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Mark Zuckerberg is facing what may be the toughest grilling of his life.

On Tuesday, the Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is testifying before a joint committee hearing of the United States Senate.

His appearance comes in the wake of a string of scandals – most recently from Cambridge Analytica improperly obtaining as many as 87 million users’ personal data, but also the intense blowback the company has faced over fake news and its role in Russian interference in American elections.

Business Insider is in attendance at the hearing, and will be bringing readers all the news live – scroll down for the latest updates, including a livestream.

3:53 p.m. ET: Facebook won’t be able to detect hate speech with AI for for 5-10 years.

Earlier in the hearing, Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook’s AI technology wouldn’t be able to reliably detect hate speech for another five-to-ten years. Here’s Business Insider’s full report »

3.47 p.m. ET: Facebook isn’t a monopoly, Zuckerberg insists.

Committee on the Judiciary

Senator Graham is grilling Zuckerberg on a range of subjects around its core product. He asks about his competitors, and cuts the CEO when he reverts to rote talking points.

He asks directly if Zuckerberg thinks is a monopoly.

“It certainly doesn’t feel like that to me,” Zuckerberg responds.

Graham also gets Zuckerberg to admit that he thinks most users don’t read Facebooks terms of service when they sign up: “I don’t think the average person likely reads the whole document.”

3:37 p.m. ET: Facebook has been interviewed by the special counsel, Zuckerberg reveals.

Committee on the Judiciary

In response to a question from Senaotr Leahy, Zuckerberg reveals that someone at Facebook has been interviewed by the office of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, investigating Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election. (It wasn’t Zuckerberg himself.)

The CEO is reluctant to offer more info, because the company’s work with the special counsel’s office is “confidential,” he says, though he says he’s not aware of any subpoena. The questioning moves on.

3:36 p.m. ET: Zuckerberg grilled about alleged genocide in Mynamar

Facebook has faced intense criticism over how its platform has been used to promote hate speech amid alleged genocide on Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

Senator Leahy asked about the crisis, and Zuckerberg outlined three steps the company is taking. It is hiring “dozens” of Burmese-langauge content reviewers, that it is working with civil society groups to identify and ban hate figures, and is working on specific features “to prevent this from happening.”

3:35 p.m. ET: The Russian trolls are here!

Joe Perticone/Business Insider

The crowd at the hearing are mainly senate staffers, lobbyists, and journalists, but there also some more colourful figures in attendance for Zuckerberg’s testimony.

Along with the Code Pink protestors, there is also this fellow dressed as one of the “Russian trolls” that has plagued Facebook in recent years.

3.29 p.m. ET: Mark Zuckerberg gets grilled about Palantir.

Leah Millis/Reuters

Senator Cantwell grills Mark Zuckerberg about Palantir – a shadowy intelligence firm run by Peter Thiel, a Facebook board member.

He says he doesn’t know if, as reports have suggested, Palantir taught Cambridge Analytica.

He is not aware of Palantir ever scraping user data.

He later adds that he’s “not reallty familiar with what Palantir does.” (Again, Thiel is a board member at Facebook, and the company’s first outside investor.)

3:22 p.m. ET: Facebook didn’t ban Cambridge Analytica in 2015 because there was “nothing to ban.”

Asked by Senator Feinstein, Zuckerberg said Facebook didn’t ban Cambridge Analytica in 2015 because there was “nothing to ban” – the firm didn’t have a presence on the site at the time. It didn’t run ads, or operate pages.

But that doesn’t answer why Facebook didn’t attempt to pre-emptively ban it from ever operaitng on Facebook, and Feinstein deos not follow up.

3:16 p.m. ET: Zuckerberg’s early remarks are fairly rote.

So far, Mark Zuckerberg’s answers to senators’ questions have been fairly rote, hitting the same beats he touched on in his damage-control media circuit over the last week.

The subject has now broadened from Cambridge Analytica to the broader issues bedevilling the social network, from hate speech to foreign intererence and elections. Questioned by Senator Feinstein, he emphasises that Facebook has improved in dealing with election inteference since 2016 – a frequent talking point for the CEO.

3:14 p.m. ET: Zuckerberg; “So we have made a lot of mistakes in running the company.”

Committee on the Judiciary

Zuckerberg was asked about why it didn’t notify the tens of millions of people affected by Cambridge Analytica back in 2015. He says it was “clearly a mistake” not to do so, had considered CA’s certificaiton it had deleted the information sufficient, “considered it a closed case.”

Facebook also didn’t notify the FTC in 2015, for the same reason.

Thune then asks Zuckerberg about why people should trust Facebook in its apology, given its history of screw-ups and subsequent apologies. “So we have made a lot of mistakes in running the company,” Zuckerberg says – a mild understatement. Says Facebook tries to avoid making the same mistakes twice.

3:06 p.m. ET: The million dollar question: Will Facebook let users pay not to see ads?

Nelson asks about users who don’t want to have their personal information used for advertising. “Are you actually considering have Facebook users pay for you not to use that information?”

Zuckerberg responds not-quite-directly, that “people really don’t like ads that aren’t relevant.”

When pushed, he says he views an ad-supported Facebook “most aligned with [our] mission … we want to offer a free service everyone can afford.”

3.02 p.m. ET: Questions begin.

And now onto the questions.

Zuckerberg punts when asked specifically how many times other apps misused data like CA did. Said there is a “full investigation” going on looking into tens of thousands of apps that had access to user data.

When pushed by Senator Grassley, he says his team will follow up at a later date.

2.59 p.m. ET: Zuckerberg speaks: “We didn’t do enough … it was a big mistake.”

Committee on the Judiciary

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is now giving his opening statement.

It’s largely similar to the remarks he’s made in recent days in blog posts and interviews with journalists.

Facebook made a “big mistake” by not taking a “broad enough view” of its responsibilities, the exec says.

He outlines the already-announced changes Facebook is making in response to the scandal, including notifying users whose data was obtained by Cambridge Analytica.

The issues Facebook is facing are challenges “for all of us as Americans,” Zuckerberg concludes.

2.52 p.m. ET: Senator Nelson raises the spectre of regulation.

Committee on the Judiciary

Senator Nelson is punchier right out the gate: If you and other social media companies do not get your act in order, none of us are gonna have any privacy any more,” he tells Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg will speak after these open statements. For now he is sitting silently, looking fairly serious, occasionally sipping water.

Nelson raises the possibility of Congress enacting regulation if Facebook fails to act: “How can American consumers trust folks like your company to be caretakers of their most personal and identifable information?”

2:48 p.m. ET: Grassley speaks again.

Business Insider

Senator Grassley talks about the scale of modern data collection, and situates it in the broader context – mentioning other companies also collecting user data, and touching on the history of the use of voter data in political campaigns (particularly Obama’s).

He says: “The tech industry has an obligation to respond to widespread and growing concerns over data privacy and security and to restore the public’s trust.”

2.44 p.m. ET: Next up, Senator Feinstein.

Committee on the Judiciary

It’s now on to Senator Feinstein. While Thune focused on data and privacy issues, her remarks also raise foreign interference via Facebook – particularly the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA).

Cambridge Analytica (CA) gets a mention too, however, linking it to Trump’s campaign – and asking whether CA coordinated with the IRA.

She’s concerned, she says, because Facebook reportedly learned of Cambridge Analytica obtaining user data in 2015 and did nothing about it until now.

2.39 p.m. ET: And so it begins.

Committee on the Judiciary

The hearing has kicked off with Senator Grassley laying out the ground rules. Senators will get five minutes, not four, and there will not be a second round of questions.

Then, first up is Senator Thune, the commerce chairman. His opening remarks are critical, Cambridge Analytica’s scraping “disturbing” and highlighting that the research firm was able to hijack Facebook’s tools rather than due to “negligence.” He also raises concerns that Facebook’s planned changes will only reinforce its dominance and further its walled garden.


Mark Zuckerberg has entered the room. He’s smiling, and greeting congressmen. He’s dressed in a dark blue suit and light blue tie. Posing for a few photographs for the media.

2.28 p.m. ET: The obligatory protestors are in attendance.

Joe Perticone/Business Insider

It just wouldn’t be a high-profile congressional hearing without a few protestors!

There’s a scattering of protestors in the audience from Code Pink, a pro-social justice organisation that campaigns against militarism. They were earlier waving banners with slogans like “PROTECT OUR PRIVACY” and “STOP CORPORATE SPYING.”

2.18 p.m. ET: How the hearing will work.

So how will today’s hearing work?

The hearing will begin with opening statements from each chairman and ranking member from the two committees, which will be Republicans John Thune (Commerce) and Chuck Grassley (Judiciary), followed by Democrats Bill Nelson (Commerce) and Dianne Feinstein (Judiciary).

After them, Zuckerberg will deliver his opening statement. Then the questioning will begin. Each senator will get five minutes and they will go one by one, rotating by party. There are 44 senators between the two committees, and they could go for multiple rounds.


CBS News

Mark Zuckerberg is in the building. CBS News captured footage of the CEO in the lobby.

2.13 p.m. ET: Crowds are swarming in the hall.

Joe Perticone/Business Insider

As the scheduled time of the hearing approaches, the hall is swarming with photographers angling for a prime shot of the 33-year-old CEO once he arrives.

Outside of the room, the line is several hundred people long, stretching down two flights of stairs and through the underground tunnels that connect the Senate office buildings. It goes all the way into the neighboring building.

Most will leave disappointed: There are only around 50 seats inside the room.

2:00 p.m. ET: The (padded) hotseat.

Joe Perticone/Business Insider

Pictured above: The seat Zuckerberg will be sitting in for his testimony, which may go on for as long as four hours.

There has been some mirth on Twitter over what appears to be a booster seat on his chair – though Business Insider understands that it has been added for additional comfort, rather than to give the 5-foot-7-inch executive a height boost.

1:44 p.m. ET: Zuckerberg won’t be under oath. Plus, expect a short delay.

Joe Perticone/Business Insider

Two key updates for now.

One: There is a Senate floor vote scheduled for 14:15 ET today, so the hearing will kick off a little later than anticipated – expect the show to get started between 14:30-14:45 ET.

And second: Mark Zuckerberg won’t be under oath when he testifies, so don’t expect to see the iconic shot of him raising his right hand as he swears truthfulness. However, he will still be required to answer truthfully, as lying to Congress is a federal crime.

For context, the Judiciary Committee typically requires witnesses to be sworn in, but the Commerce Committee does not. In addition, Zuckerberg is a non-government witness, which Judiciary often does not require to go under oath.

1:33 p.m. ET: Get ready…

Hello, and welcome to Business Insider’s liveblog of Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional testimony!

We’ll be bringing you all the latest news as it comes in. Stay tuned.