WATCH | Facebook vs FaceMash: Zuckerberg explains the difference
In addition to scrutiny around privacy and transparency, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg also had to face questions about one of his earlier projects, FaceMash.
Congressman Billy Long of Missouri asked Zuckerberg what Facemash was and whether it was still running.
Zuckerberg confirmed that the site was not connected to Facebook and no longer exists.
"Congressman, Facemash was a prank website that I launched in college in my dorm room before I started Facebook. There was a movie about this, or it said it was about this. It was unclear truth. And the claim that Facemash was somehow connected to the development of Facebook — it isn’t," said Zuckerberg.
The Facebook CEO emerged largely unscathed Wednesday from two days of high-stakes hearings that saw US lawmakers grill the billionaire over how the online giant feeds users’ data to advertisers and chide him over privacy rights.
The marathon 10 hours of questioning was one of the biggest spectacles in Congress in recent memory, followed blow by blow on social media under the hashtags #ZuckerBowl and #ZuckUnderOath.
Channeling public anger over data privacy lapses — including most spectacularly the leak of personal information from 87 million Facebook users to a political consultant — lawmakers in both House and Senate raised the specter of regulations to bring online firms to heel.
The 33-year-old CEO conceded that some regulation of social media companies is “inevitable,” while offering a laundry list of reform pledges at Facebook and vowing to improve privacy and security.
But he stiffly defended Facebook’s business model — specifically the way it uses data and postings from the 2.2-billion users of its free platform — calling it necessary to attract ad revenue the $480-billion company depends on.
In the wake of the massive leak of user information to Cambridge Analytica, which worked for Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, Zuckerberg reiterated that the company had shut down the pipeline that allowed data — including his own — to slip without consent into the hands of third parties.
A day earlier Zuckerberg took personal responsibility for the data breach.
Yet in his testimony to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, he was also steadfast in arguing that Facebook’s users themselves are choosing to make their data available, and that the company’s “opt-in” provisions offered them sufficient control.
“Every time that a person chooses to share something on Facebook, they’re proactively going to the service and choosing that they want to share a photo, write a message to someone.” “Every time there is a control right there,” Zuckerberg said.
Some analysts said Zuckerberg’s appearance suggests a new path forward for social media under closer scrutiny.
“Zuckerberg’s testimony demonstrated that the company has matured over the last decade, in particular in his acknowledgement that Facebook is responsible for the content shared on its platform,” said University of Delaware communications professor Dannagal Young.
“Acknowledging responsibility for the content shared on the platform changes how Facebook ought to engage in gatekeeping and fact-checking, and how the government might go about regulating the industry.” Syracuse University professor Jennifer Grygiel called the hearings “an important milestone.” “This is a first step in the process of writing much needed regulation,” she said.
“It is clear from congressional testimony that self-regulation alone is not working and that regulatory oversight is needed in the United States in order to ensure safe social media.” Noting that a European data protection standard due to come into effect on May 25 was more stringent than what was currently in place at Facebook, Zuckerberg suggested it could serve as a rough model for US rules in the future.
Facebook is implementing the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) standard for European users next month, and some of its rules will be extended to US and other users later, he confirmed.