2ND UPDATE, 5:06 PM: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s meetings in Washington on Thursday included a visit with President Donald Trump, who has claimed the social media platform has been biased toward Democrats.
But in a message on Twitter, Trump posted a picture of him meeting with Zuckerberg in the Oval Office and called it a “nice meeting.”
According to the Washington Post, Zuckerberg will meet Friday with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), who chairs an antitrust subcommittee. The committee is conducting an investigation of the major tech platforms to determine if they have engaged in anticompetitive practices.
UPDATE, 2:04 PM: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) had a “frank conversation,” according to the senator, who has hammered the social media giant in past criticisms.
Hawley wrote on Twitter and told reporters that he challenged Zuckerberg to show Facebook “is serious” about bias, privacy and competition. He called for the social media giant to sell Whats App and Instagram, and to submit to an independent audit on censorship. “He said no to both,” Hawley wrote.
According to Hawley, Zuckerberg admitted there was bias in one instance, in which Facebook initially deemed an anti-abortion video as “false news” before removing the designation following a furor from Hawley and other lawmakers such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
PREVIOUSLY, 7:41 AM: Capitol Hill will be abuzz today with sightings of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who is meeting with a series of lawmakers amid the greater regulatory and antitrust scrutiny of the social media giant.
Among those who Zuckerberg will meet Thursday or later this week are Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Judiciary’s antitrust subcommittee.
He already met last night with a group of senators for a dinner, which Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) helped organize at Facebook’s request. Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, has introduced or co-authored legislation that would require greater disclosure of the sources of online political ads and add greater restrictions to platforms’ collection of consumer data.
Rachel Cohen, a spokeswoman for Warner, said that the senators discussed the “role and responsibility of social media platforms in protecting our democracy, and what steps Congress should take to defend our elections, protect consumer data, and encourage competition in the social media space.”
Zuckerberg has acknowledged that regulation is coming. Earlier this year he wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post in which he said that, among other things, “regulation could set baselines for what’s prohibited and require companies to build systems for keeping harmful content to a bare minimum.”
The environment in Washington toward tech platforms is chillier even since Zuckerberg testified in April 2018 before Senate and House committees, an event that drew widespread coverage yet only seemed to intensify the scrutiny of Facebook.
Since then, federal regulators have honed in on questions of Facebook’s power in the marketplace, as the Federal Trade Commission is conducting an investigation along with a group of attorneys general from eight states and the District of Columbia.
Last summer. Facebook agreed to pay $5 billion in a settlement with the FTC over the sharing of personal data with third parties.
Some lobbyists for traditional media giants have watched the scrutiny of tech platforms with a sense of schadenfreude, as they have long complained that lawmakers have taken a hands off approach to Silicon Valley while Hollywood is often a frequent target and broadcasting is subject to extensive regulation. There’s also piracy, as studios and record labels have long complained that Google in particular should do more to police its platform for infringing content. When Zuckerberg testified before Congress, Motion Picture Association chairman Charles Rivkin sent a letter to senators. “There was a vision for the Internet, and this is not it,” he wrote, calling for greater “platform accountability.”
A Facebook spokesman said of Zuckerberg’s visit, “Mark is in Washington, D.C., to meet with policymakers and talk about future internet regulation. There are no public events planned.”
One of Facebook’s most vocal Senate critics, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who was at the Wednesday night dinner, said in a statement that “We talked about some of the most pressing challenges facing the tech industry, including its repeated failures to protecting election security and consumer privacy. I focused on the challenges of privacy safeguards and I welcome the strong, constructive interest shown by Mr. Zuckerberg. We had serious, substantive conversation even when we may have differed, and I look forward to continue this conversation.”
So far, one person who is not on Zuckerberg’s meeting list is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. One of her aides said that they received no request for a meeting. She was highly critical of the company last spring, when a video of her went viral in which she appeared to be slurring her words. But the video had been altered to make it seem as if she was having trouble speaking, when in fact she had not. Facebook declined to remove the clip.