By Mark Fairlie
Last month, the world’s largest social media network found itself at the centre of a global scandal after news broke that they may have sold voter data to influence both the 2016 US presidential election and the Brexit referendum.
Facebook has been accused of leaking data from as many as 87 million user accounts to data consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica, believing it was to be used for academic purposes. However, the information was reportedly used to create psychographic profiles of users in order to influence political ads and campaigns.
“It was my mistake”
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is set to testify before Congress later today to address the social media giant’s use and protection of user data and its role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Earlier this week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee released the prepared testimony which Zuckerberg is expected to deliver at the hearing later today.
In the statement, Zuckerberg will say that
“[Facebook] didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.”
The hearing is set to attract a lot of media attention with wall-to-wall coverage and the proceedings being broadcast live. Despite the early release of Zuckerberg’s written testimony, the end result of the hearing could still swing either way.
What Congress will be looking for in Zuckerberg’s testimony
The purpose of the hearing will be for the Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees to question Zuckerberg on Facebook’s data privacy, and why they did not become aware of the system breach sooner.
The CEO is expected to face many difficult questions during the hearing, but what will Congress – and, indeed, the media – be looking for?
Zuckerberg’s behaviour under pressure
Whilst Zuckerberg is expected to personally foot the blame for the data breach, as seen in the pre-released testimony, lawmakers will be looking for signs of genuine remorse during his speech.
Crisis communications expert and columnist for The Hill, Lanny Davis, says Zuckerberg must
“try to be authentic and humble and avoid any degree of arrogance and glib answers. He’s got to be thoughtful and avoid what happened to Bill Gates in the antitrust case. He was arrogant and slouched.”
It is also expected that, in addition to accepting some of the blame themselves, Facebook will maintain that the fault falls mainly on Aleksandr Kogan.
Kogan is the researcher that created the “thisisyourdigitallife” app which sent the Facebook user data to Cambridge Analytics under the guise of being a psychology research tool.
Dr. Kogan has refused to provide details regarding the scandal because of supposed nondisclosure agreements with both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. He did, however, tell the New York Times that his programme was just “a very standard vanilla Facebook app.”
Reactions to lawmakers
For years now, lawmakers across the United States have wanted to hear about Facebook’s practices directly from Zuckerberg. With their opportunity fast approaching, the world will be watching how Zuckerberg responds to their questioning.
Prior to the hearing, Senator John Kennedy has voiced his concerns over Facebook’s response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, stating:
“We have a problem. Our promised digital utopia has minefields in it. Mr. Zuckerberg has not exhausted himself being forthcoming.”
Last November, Senator Dianne Feinstein also criticised social media networks regarding data breach issues.
“You created these platforms, and now they’re being misused. And you have to be the ones who do something about it, or we will. We are not going to go away, gentlemen,” she commented.
The hearing will take place at 2.15pm EDT.