April 10, 2018

As Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Testifies, He Must Take Responsibility and Make Commitments

Statement of Lisa Gilbert, Vice President of Legislative Affairs, Public Citizen

The outrageous and endless news of Cambridge Analytica harvesting our information from Facebook and then using it to try to influence the election is a reminder not only of the need for legislative and regulatory reform in the social media space, but also of how digital loopholes must be plugged by the companies themselves in the interim.

We also know that Facebook played a key role in the now undisputed 2016 Russian election interference. Thanks to the important work of the special counsel’s office, we have a deeper understanding of what Russia did and how it was accomplished, and we cannot let it happen again.

As Mark Zuckerberg speaks to Congress and the public over the next two days, he must promise to change his company’s practices to prevent Dark Money organizations as well as foreign nations from misusing his platform and interfering in our elections in the midterms. If he does not commit to such internal changes, he is responsible for the outcomes. Facebook has taken an important step by endorsing the Honest Ads Act and claiming a renewed commitment to transparency, but in the absence of the legislation’s passage, the implementation of Facebook’s plan will be critical.

Facebook must do everything it can to show good faith as a corporate actor. One additional way it can do so is to pair increased disclosure requirements for those who use its platform with increased disclosure of its own. Though Facebook shares our data, it keeps its own a secret, and last year rejected a shareholder proposal calling for full disclosure of the company’s own lobbyist expenditures. Zuckerberg controls most of the voting shares in Facebook and could personally choose to make this information public.

Facebook owes its users and our democracy more than just protection against devious organizations seeking to undermine our democracy. It must stop abusing its users, which means it must afford far greater privacy rights than it does currently. At minimum, it must provide every Facebook user, whether they live in United States or anywhere in the world, with the same high privacy and data protection standards that the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation mandates for citizens.

We urge Zuckerberg to walk the walk to make his company again one to trust by supporting regulations, requiring transparency on its platform and supporting transparency of its own behavior in politics. Facebook must take Russian election interference head on, and if it doesn’t, it’s on Facebook.

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