Tech Industry

Mark Zuckerberg defends Facebook's openness, vows to fight election interference

The CEO tells EU leaders the social network will continue to allow for a range of political views while combating bullying and hate speech.

Mark Zuckerberg maintains that the right kind of regulation is crucial for both Facebook and future startups.
Screenshot by Abrar Al-Heeti

On the latest stop of his apology tour, in Brussels on Tuesday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was flooded with questions from members of the European Parliament on topics ranging from regulation to elections. Zuckerberg defended the openness of the social networking platform, maintained that it would be fully compliant with the General Data Protection Regulation by the end of the week, and emphasized the company's commitment to preventing election interference. 

The CEO of the world's largest social network is appearing before the European Parliament to discuss the influence Facebook, and by extension the tech industry at large, has had on elections in Europe. The revelation that Facebook was manipulated to spread propaganda and that data from as many as 87 million of its users was improperly shared with the political consultancy Cambridge Analytica raised questions about whether the social network can be trusted to protect all our data. 

As members of the parliament grilled Zuckerberg on regulation, he maintained that regulation is necessary but that it would be important to "get this right."  

"I don't think the question here is whether or not there should be regulation," Zuckerberg said. "I think the question is what is the right regulation."

He also noted that one of Facebook's top priorities is to ensure that it prevents anyone from interfering in elections, after Russian trolls used the social network to meddle in the 2016 US presidential contest.

As for the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, which raises the standards, and stakes, of personal data privacy, Zuckerberg said Facebook expects to be fully compliant with the regulation on May 25.

European Parliament members including Nigel Farage of the UK and Nicolas Bay of France pressed Zuckerberg on what they believed to be biased targeting of right-leaning pages and accounts.  

"I'm beginning to wonder whether we need a social media bill of rights to basically protect free speech," Farage said.

But Zuckerberg maintained that Facebook is committed to being a platform for all ideas.  

"It's very important to me that we're a service that allows for a wide variety of political discourse," Zuckerberg said. "We have never and will not make decisions about what content is allowed or how we do ranking on the basis of political orientation."

Zuckerberg said inappropriate content such as hate speech, bullying, terrorism and fake accounts has no place on the platform, and that in order to eliminate them the company needs to do a better job of executing its policies. 

Tuesday's hearing follows Zuckerburg's congressional testimony last month, where the 34 year-old billionaire spent 10 hours over two days getting grilled by three committees in the US Senate and House of Representatives. The result, as we painfully learned from some clearly uninformed questions from senators, was that though Congress wanted to begin regulating the internet behemoth, it didn't know how.

Members of the European Parliament made it clear to Zuckerberg that he's being held to a higher standard when it comes to regulation and protecting user privacy. 

"You've come here not to Congress, but to the European Union," said Claude Moraes of the UK. "And we have expectations."

Zuckerberg didn't have time to address all the topics during the meeting and said he'd follow up with each member to answer questions. 

CNET's Ian Sherr and Richard Nieva contributed to this report.

Zuck at the EU: Our main story about Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's testimony before the EU Parliament

Cambridge Analytica: Everything you need to know about Facebook's data mining scandal.