Mark Zuckerberg is really sorry for creating a situation where Facebook willingly handed over data on its users to companies like Cambridge Analytica, but in a rare media blitz Wednesday night, the CEO also looked forward to another scandal brewing: efforts to meddle in the 2018 elections.
"I'm sure someone's trying," Zuckerberg told CNN's Laurie Segall, when asked whether Facebook had seen any efforts to interfere in the elections. "I'm sure that there's V2, version two, of whatever the Russian effort was in 2016, I'm sure they're working on that. And there are going to be some new tactics that we need to make sure that we observe and get in front of."
In Wednesday interviews to CNN, the New York Times, Wired, and Recode — most of which described their access as "exclusive" — Zuckerberg apologized repeatedly for Facebook’s decision to keep quiet in 2015 about the fact that a Cambridge researcher had sold more than 50 million Facebook users’ data to the Trump-linked political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. The interviews mainly focused on the fallout of that decision, but reporters also took the time to ask the media-shy Zuckerberg about data privacy and Facebook’s role in election interference.
Zuckerberg acknowledged that Facebook has concerns about “bad actors,” including Russian meddling and fake news, and deployed tools throughout 2017 to minimize their impact. But he declined to speculate on whether Facebook could have swayed the 2016 election.
“I think that it is it’s really hard to me to have a full assessment of that,” he told CNN. “There are so many different forces at play.”
Zuckerberg also indicated that he was open to the possibility of placing government regulations on Facebook, telling Wired that the question was not about whether Facebook should be regulated, but how. Specifically, Zuckerberg said Facebook was prepared to implement controls to ensure transparency in advertising.
He was less certain, however, about what role artificial intelligence would play in these regulations.
“Now that companies increasingly over the next five to 10 years, as AI tools get better and better, will be able to proactively determine what might be offensive content or violate some rules, what therefore is the responsibility and legal responsibility of companies to do that?” Zuckerberg said. “That, I think, is probably one of the most interesting intellectual and social debates around how you regulate this.”
Zuckerberg was clearly contrite in the interviews, admitting that Facebook had made a mistake, both by allowing researcher Aleksandr Kogan to have access to so many people’s data, and by keeping silent about breach. Going forward, Zuckerberg said, Facebook will investigate what he said are potentially thousands of apps that have access to users’ information in an effort to ensure that there are no other Cambridge Analytica scandals waiting to happen. He also promised to notify every user whose data may have been compromised by Cambridge Analytica. But Zuckerberg refused to confirm that he’d testify in front of Congress about the controversy.
Asked on CNN if he would testify to lawmakers, which he has never done, Zuckerberg said, “The short answer is I’m happy to if it’s the right thing to do.”
The long answer, however, suggested that time may never come. “We just want to make sure that we send whoever is best informed to do that,” the founder and face of Facebook added.
Cover image: Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook Inc., speaks during the Oculus Connect 4 product launch event in San Jose, California, U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017. Facebook unveiled a cheaper virtual-reality headset that works without being tethered to a computer, rounding out its plan for pushing the emerging technology to the masses. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images