Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg faced questions from more than 50 members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday, less than 24 hours after appearing before the Senate's Commerce and Judiciary committees.
His two-day testimony on Capitol Hill marked his latest attempt to quell concerns over how Facebook handles the data of its more than two billion users. The hearings were called as a result of the company’s involvement with Cambridge Analytica, a UK-based data firm with ties to President Trump's campaign that improperly used the data of 87 million Facebook users without their knowledge.
Below are five takeaways from the five-hour hearing.
Reps struggle to understand how Facebook works
It became increasingly clear throughout the hearing that many in Congress struggle to understand the very basics of Facebook’s business model and how exactly it operates. Representatives often repeated questions that Zuckerberg previously addressed, and some seemed fuzzy on the basic facts involved in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
For instance, Rep. Chris Collins of New York asked Zuckerberg “what data was being collected” when Cambridge Analytica got its hands on the data of tens of millions of Facebook users in 2014. Zuckerberg then explained that the data breach affected not only users of the personality quiz app created by Aleksandr Kogan, but also users’ friends, which is why millions of people were impacted.
“I think that’s a very good clarification, because people are wondering how 300,000 becomes 87 million,” said Collins.
Opioid crisis hits Facebook
Rep. David McKinley of West Virginia wasted no time in grilling Zuckerberg on the role that Facebook is playing in the opioid crisis.
He accused Facebook of enabling illegal online pharmacies to sell drugs such as Oxycotin on the site. According to McKinley, of the 35,000 pharmacies operating online, 96% are illegal.
McKinley begged the chief executive to take accountability and do a better job of taking down these types of posts.
“America’s in the midst of one of the worst epidemics it’s ever experienced, but your platform is still being used to circumvent the law and allow people to buy highly addictive drugs without a prescription. With all due respect, Facebook is actually enabling an illegal activity,” he said.
Zuckerberg responded by stating that there are a “number of areas of content” that Facebook could do a better job of policing.
Diamond and Silk
Diamond and Silk - two African-American pro-Trump vloggers - came up a handful of times throughout the hearing as Republican lawmakers questioned why Facebook has been censoring the pair’s content as of late. Diamond and Silk recently complained that Facebook is limiting the reach of their videos, noting that the social giant deemed their content "unsafe."
Rep. Joe Barton of Texas asked Zuckerberg why the social platform called the conservative content "unsafe." The chief executive chalked it up to a mistake.
“In that specific case, our team made an enforcement error, and we have already gotten in touch with them to reverse it,” he said.
The flub raised larger questions around how Facebook goes about vetting content and whether or not it’s biased. Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee asked Zuckerberg if Facebook subjectively manipulates algorithms "to prioritize or censor speech," to which he gave a jumbled response about how the platform only removes certain types of content, like posts related to terrorism.
"Let me tell you something right now: Diamond and Silk is not terrorism," she fired back.
Is Facebook listening to us?
Rumors that Facebook listens to user conversations in order to better target ads have been swirling for a while now, but the platform continues to deny that it does any such thing.
Yet that didn’t stop Rep. Larry Bucshon of Indiana from addressing the topic head on during the hearing.
“There are plenty of anecdotal examples where people will be verbally discussing items - never having actively been on the internet at the time - and then the next time they get on Facebook, ads for things that they were verbally discussing with each other will show up,” he said.
Bucshon asked if Facebook is listening to conversations, or if it has contracts with companies that provide data that is acquired verbally.
Zuckerberg denied the allegations: "We’re not collecting any information verbally from the microphone, and we do not have contracts with anyone else who is."
Facebook chief says he was affected by Cambridge Analytica, too
During the hearing, Zuckerberg said that he was one of the 87 million people whose data was involved in the Cambridge Analytica breach.
His admission came after Rep. Anna Eshoo of California asked him if his data was “included in the data sold to the malicious third parties.”
Zuckerberg also said that Kogan - the creator of the app that supplied Cambridge Analytica with the Facebook data of tens of millions of people - sold that data to other firms as well.
“I don’t believe it was a large number, but as we complete the audits, we will know more," he stated in response to a question posed by Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois.