Scalise Questions Facebook's Zuckerberg on Privacy and Bias

April 11, 2018
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C.—House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) questioned Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the Energy and Commerce Committee this morning. Whip Scalise sought answers to what data Facebook collects, how the platform's algorithms impact users, and the company's data policies for campaigns, including President Obama's 2012 re-election campaign.

Click here or on the image above to watch Whip Scalise's questioning.


Read the full exchange below:

Scalise: Mr. Zuckerberg, I appreciate you coming here. I know you came here voluntarily. We appreciate the opportunity to have this discussion. Clearly, what your company has been able to do has revolutionized the way that people can connect. There is a tremendous benefit to our country. Now it’s a worldwide platform. It’s helped create a shortage of computer programmers, so as a former computer programmer, we could both agree we should encourage more people to go into the computer sciences because our country is a world leader thanks to your company and so many others. It obviously raises questions about privacy and data, and how the data is shared, and what is a user's expectation of where that data goes. I want to ask a few questions. First, would you agree that we need more computer programmers and people to go into that field?

Zuckerberg: Congressman, yes.

Scalise: That's a public service announcement we just made. I appreciate you joining me in that. Mr. Shimkus’s question – a follow up to a question yesterday that you weren’t able to answer – it was dealing with how Facebook tracks users, especially after they log off. You had said, in relation to Congressman Shimkus's question, 'There is data mining, but it goes on for security purposes.' My question would be, is that data that is mined for security purposes also used to sell as part of the business model?

Zuckerberg: Congressman, I believe that those are -- that we collect different data for those, but I can follow up on the details.

Scalise: If you could follow up, I would appreciate that.

Getting into this new realm of content review, I know some of the people that work for Facebook, Campbell Brown said for example, 'This is changing our relationship with publishers and emphasizing something that Facebook has never done before. It's having a point of view.’ You mentioned the Diamond & Silk example. You, I think, described it as a mistake. Were the people who made that mistake held accountable in any way?

Zuckerberg: Congressman, let me follow up with you on that. That situation developed while I was here preparing to testify.

Scalise: I do want to ask you about a study that was done dealing with the algorithm that Facebook uses to describe what is fed to people through the news feed. What they found was, after this new algorithm was implemented, that there was a tremendous bias against conservative news and content, and a favorable bias towards liberal content. If you look at that, that shows a 16-point disparity, which is concerning. I would imagine you're not going to want to share the algorithm itself with us. I would encourage you to if you wanted to do that. Who develops the algorithm? I wrote algorithms before. You can determine whether you want to write an algorithm to sort data, to compartmentalize data, but you can also put a bias in if that's the directive. Was there a directive to put a bias in? And first, are you aware of this bias that many people have looked at and analyzed and seen?

Zuckerberg: Congressman, this is a really important question. There is absolutely no directive in any of the changes that we make to have a bias in anything that we do. To the contrary, our goal is to be a platform for all ideas.

Scalise: I know we're almost out of time. If you can go back and look and determine if there was a bias--whoever developed that software, you have 20,000 people that work on some of this data analysis--if you can look and see if there is a bias and let us know if there is and what you're doing about it. That is disturbing when you see that kind of disparity. Finally, there's been a lot of talk about Cambridge and what they've done in the last campaign. In 2008 and 2012, there was also a lot of this done. One of the lead digital heads of the Obama campaign said, recently, 'Facebook was surprised we were able to suck out the whole social graph, but they didn't stop us once they realized that was what we were doing. They came to the office in the days following the election, recruiting, and were very candid that they allowed us to do things they wouldn’t have allowed someone else to do because they were on our side.' That's a direct quote from one of the heads of the Obama digital team. What would she mean by they—Facebook—were on our side?

Zuckerberg: Congressman, we didn't allow the Obama campaign to do anything that any developer on the platform wouldn't have been able to do.

Scalise: She was making an inaccurate statement in your point of view?

Zuckerberg: Yes.


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