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Facebook chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg told members of the European Parliament in Brussels on Tuesday evening that the social media giant was “used for harm” in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and he apologized for it.
“Whether it’s fake news, foreign interference in elections or developers misusing people’s information, we didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibilities. That was a mistake, and I’m sorry for it,” Zuckerberg told European lawmakers during a session that was webcast.
“It’s also become clear over the last couple of years that we haven’t done enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm,” he added in opening remarks. Zuckerberg pointed to the tech giant recently suspending around 200 apps following an investigation into how user data was accessed, mined and shared during the 2016 U.S. presidential election without user consent.
“In 2016, we were too slow to identify Russian interference on Facebook in the U.S. presidential election. At the time we were more focused on traditional cyberattacks,” he said.
Zuckerberg’s testimony touched on privacy, data protection, fake news and other issues after the social network failed to fully protect its 2.2 billion users in the Cambridge Analytica data breach. The format in Brussels allowed Zuckerberg to offer general answers to questions from European lawmakers, who took turns over nearly an hour to ask a host of questions back-to-back before the Facebook CEO was allowed to respond, rather than grill him in back-and-forth exchanges.
In his response, Zuckerberg pointed to spammers, fake accounts and “people who are well meaning, but happen to share something that’s provably false” as the basis for fake news on the Facebook platform. “We don’t want to be in the position of saying [what] is true or false — we work with third-party fact-checkers, and we’re public about who they are, and if they say the story is provably false, we peg something to that and try to show it less,” Zuckerberg said.
He answered in part a question from British politician Nigel Farage, who, echoing Republican lawmakers in the U.S. Congress, questioned whether Facebook was biased in favor of left-wing political opinions, alleging that the social media platform “wilfully discriminated” against right-wing comments.
“What is absolutely true is that since January this year, you’ve changed your algorithms, and it’s led to a substantial drop to views and engagements for those who’ve got right of center political opinions. … On average, we’re down about 25 percent over the course of this year,” Farage told Zuckerberg.
Zuckerberg in reply reiterated Facebook did not censor users based on “political orientation,” and promoted a wide variety of political views on the platform. On elections, including in Europe, Zuckerberg said Facebook aimed to “prevent anyone from trying to interfere in elections, like Russians were trying to in 2016.”
Aside from the 2016 U.S. election, European politicians were keen to know what roles Cambridge Analytica and the social media giant played in Britain’s 2016 EU membership referendum and other European political events. Zuckerberg’s appearance before the European Parliament followed media reports that 50 million Facebook profiles were mined by Cambridge Analytica as part of a massive data breach, and that data was then used in political ads to target American voters.
Zuckerberg countered, “the good news with Cambridge Analytica is that [with] the changes we made back in 2014 … it wouldn’t be possible [now] for an app developer to get access to that level of data.”
The president of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, on Monday announced that Zuckerberg’s appearance would be live-streamed, not held behind closed doors as originally anticipated.
Zuckerberg also met with the European Parliament’s Conference of Presidents, which is made up of the leaders of the body’s eight main political groups, as well as members of its justice committee.
His appearance comes just three days before tighter European Union data-protection rules take effect, including fines of up to 4 percent of global revenue for companies that breach them.
Zuckerberg previously gave congressional testimony in Washington, D.C., with the British parliament’s House of Commons also having tried to get him to appear in front of one of its committees in person.
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