WASHINGTON: Facebook Inc Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg told US senators on Tuesday that the company was attempting to change in light of recent criticism, as he attempted to forestall any strict legislation aimed at the world’s largest social network.
The 33-year-old internet mogul was grilled in a joint hearing of the US Senate’s commerce and judiciary committees on a range of issues from Facebook’s handling of alleged Russian attempts at election interference to consumer privacy and hate speech.
“We are going through a broad philosophical shift at the company,” said Zuckerberg, wearing a dark suit and tie instead of his typical T-shirt and jeans.
John Thune, chairman of the US Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committee, struck an adversarial tone in his opening remarks. “In the past, many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle have been willing to defer to tech companies efforts to regulate themselves. But this may be changing,” he said.
Outside the Capitol building, which houses Congress, online protest group Avaaz set up 100 life-sized cutouts of Zuckerberg wearing T-shirts with the words ‘Fix Facebook’.
Facebook faces a growing crisis of confidence among users, advertisers, employees and investors after acknowledging that up to 87 million people, mostly in the United States, had personal information harvested from the site by Cambridge Analytica, a political consultancy that has counted US President Donald Trump’s election campaign among its clients.
It is also struggling to deal with fake news and alleged foreign interference in elections, disclosing in September that Russians under fake names used the social network to try to influence US voters in the months before and after the 2016 election, writing about inflammatory subjects, setting up events and buying ads.
In February, US Special Counsel Robert Mueller charged 13 Russians and three Russian companies with interfering in the election by sowing discord on social media.
Zuckerberg, who founded Facebook in his Harvard University dorm room in 2004, is fighting to prove to critics that he is the right person to go on leading what has grown into one of the world’s largest companies.
On Friday, Zuckerberg threw his support behind proposed legislation requiring social media sites to disclose the identities of buyers of online political campaign ads.
Facebook shares were up 4.4 per cent in afternoon trading, hitting their highest level since late March.
Published in Dawn, April 11th, 2018