Mark Zuckerberg gets grilled by EU over data mining, election meddling
The CEO of the world’s largest social network was supposed to charm European regulators. It didn't work after he dodged some questions.
Ian SherrFormer Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. At CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
went to Brussels on the latest stop of his apology tour Tuesday to deliver yet another mea culpa for
and policy blunders that led to one of the largest data leaks in
history and an unprecedented attack on democratic elections across the West.
If this was supposed to be part of a charm offensive for Facebook, it fell flat.
After listening to about an hour of questions from members of the European Union's Parliament, Zuckerberg answered at the end -- rather than responding to each question after it was posed. But he ended up only spending about 25 minutes giving his replies, ignoring some questions completely.
"I asked you six yes-and-no questions, and I got not a single answer," said Guy Verhofstadt, a Belgian politician. Zuckerberg paused and then responded, "I'll make sure we follow up and get you answers to those" in the next few days.
The 34-year-old multibillionaire has been answering questions for weeks about everything from Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, which some argue handed a victory to Donald Trump, to the 87 million user profiles that were mistakenly shared with a now-defunct UK-based political consultancy called Cambridge Analytica.
One noted that Facebook had learned about Cambridge Analytica three years ago, but only acknowledged recently that the firm had gotten access to users' data. Another pointed to the pervasiveness of Facebook's data collection. And others raised concerns about free speech allowing for Nazi propaganda.
Meanwhile, Nigel Farage, who heads up Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy, the European Parliament's right-wing populist group, asked Zuckerberg to defend the platform's political leanings and its transparency. Right-leaning Facebook users who hold mainstream, not extremist, political views "are being willfully discriminated against," he said.
"Would you accept that today Facebook is not a platform for all ideas that is operated impartially?" said Farage. "I'm not someone who calls for legislation on the international stage, but I'm starting to think that we need a social media bill of rights.
Watch this: EU Parliament member to Zuck: Did you create a digital monster?
Zuckerberg insisted that hate speech, terror and violence have "no place on our services." He added that his team is is creating artificial intelligence tools to identify, for example, almost all the content from ISIS. He also said Facebook is getting better at identifying bullying and possibilities of self harm.
"We'll never be perfect," Zuckerberg said. "Our adversaries, especially on the election side -- the people trying to interfere -- will have access to the same AI tools that we will. So it's an arms race, and we'll constantly be working to stay ahead."
Zuckerberg ended the session telling Parliament, "I want to be sensitive to time because we are 15 minutes over."
But members of Parliament didn't care about time limits. And now they're going to have to wait for answers.
"It's clear now that we didn't do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm," Zuckerberg said during his comments during two-days of testimony to Congress last month. "That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy. We didn't take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake."
In Europe, Zuckerberg has to contend with regulators who take a much stronger stance on privacy than in the US.
He also asked a stone-faced Zuckerberg how he'd like to be remembered: "As one of the great internet giants, together with Steve Jobs [and] Bill Gates, who have enriched the world and our societies? Or, on the other hand, [as] the genius who created a digital monster that is destroying our democracies and our societies?"
Verhofstadt said he'll be watching to make sure Zuckerberg delivers the answers he promised on Tuesday.
"I trust that written answers from Facebook will be forthcoming," Verhofstadt wrote in a tweet after the hearing. "If these are not accurately answered in detail, the EU competition authorities must be activated & legislation sharpened."
CNET's Katie Collins, Rochelle Garner, Abrar Al-Heeti, Laura Hautala and Alfred Ng contributed to this report.
First published May 22 at 4 a.m. PT. Update at 9:38 a.m. PT: Adds more details as event started. Update at 9:38 a.m., 10:11 a.m. and 10:20 a.m. PT: Adds questions from European regulators. Update at 10:30 a.m., 10:49 PT: Adds Zuckerberg's answers to European regulators. Update at 1:58 p.m. PT: Adds details from the event and afterward.