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Embattled Facebook CEO Zuckerberg meets his critics, seeks to mend fences

Embattled Facebook CEO Zuckerberg meets his critics, seeks to mend fences
September 20, 2019
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has met with some of his company’s toughest critics, facing aggressive questions over the social network’s failures to protect consumer privacy and a call on Thursday to sell WhatsApp and Instagram. On the second day of a three-day trip to Washington, Zuckerberg, wearing a suit and tie rather than his usual hoodie, met with Senators Josh Hawley and Mike Lee. He also had dinner with lawmakers, including Senator Richard Blumenthal, on Wednesday evening. Zuckerberg took no questions from reporters as he moved from office to office on Capitol Hill. After his meeting with the Facebook founder, Hawley, a tough critic, said that discussions had been “frank,” often a euphemism for disagreements. He told Zuckerberg that Facebook could show it was serious about protecting users’ privacy by selling social media platforms that Facebook had acquired. This would restrict the company’s ability to compile information about an individual from different sources. “I said to him, ‘Prove that you’re serious about data. Sell WhatsApp. And sell Instagram,’” Hawley told reporters. “Safe to say he was not receptive to those suggestions.” Hawley has accused Facebook of suppressing conservative speech. He was one of four senators who signed a letter this month accusing Facebook of censorship for declaring statements on the anti-abortion group Live Action’s Facebook page false and temporarily restricting access to it as part of an effort to fight false news. Hawley expressed exasperation with the CEO’s acknowledgement that restricting access to the page had been an error. “He said that they made a mistake, that there was clearly bias in the Live Action decision,” said Hawley, who urged Facebook to submit its content moderation process to an independent third-party audit. “The company talks a lot. I’d like to see some action.” The CEO was expected to meet on Friday with House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, who has been an outspoken critic of what he has called bias at Facebook, as well as Adam Schiff, a Democrat and chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Another critic has been Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat who attended a dinner with Zuckerberg on Wednesday at the Washington restaurant Ris. After the dinner, Blumenthal said he had brought up Facebook’s “repeated failures” in election security and consumer privacy. “We had (a) serious, substantive conversation even when we may have differed,” he said in a statement. Zuckerberg also met with Senators Mike Lee, Tom Cotton and Maria Cantwell, who is one of several lawmakers working to draft online privacy legislation. Lee, who has more moderate views of the social media company, and Zuckerberg discussed bias on Facebook’s platform, potential government regulation, antitrust and other issues, a spokesman said. Zuckerberg was expected to hold meetings with the Trump administration, according to a person briefed on the matter. Facebook and the White House both declined to say if Zuckerberg would meet with President Donald Trump. Facebook has spent the last several years under fire for a string of lapses including inappropriately sharing information belonging to 87 million users with a now-defunct British political consultancy, triggering a $5 billion fine. The company, which is an advertising powerhouse, faces antitrust investigations by the Federal Trade Commission and a number of state attorneys general, as well as numerous legislative proposals that seek to restrict how it operates. It may also face an antitrust probe by the U.S. Justice Department. Senator Lee was critical of what he saw as duplication in federal investigations in a hearing on Tuesday.