WASHINGTON (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — Texas Senator Ted Cruz had some tough questions for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Capitol Hill Tuesday.
Zuckerberg apologized for his company’s role in a data privacy scandal and foreign interference in the 2016 elections before Congress Tuesday, saying the social network “didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility.”
Cruz began by asking Zuckerberg if Facebook considers itself a neutral public forum. “Senator, we consider ourselves to be a platform for all ideas,” said Zuckerberg. “Let me ask the question again. Does Facebook consider itself to be a neutral public forum?” Cruz repeated. “Representatives of your company have given conflicting answers on this,” the Senator continued. “Are you a first amendment speaker expressing your views, or are you a neutral public forum allowing everyone to speak?”
“There is certain content that clearly we do not allow: hate speech; terrorist content; nudity – anything that makes people feel unsafe in the community,” said Zuckerberg. “From that perspective, that’s why we generally try to refer to what we do as a platform for all ideas.”
Cruz interrupted as he stated that time was constrained. “It’s just a simple question. The predicate for Section 230 immunity under the CDA (Communication Decency Act) is that you are a neutral public forum,” said Cruz. “Do you consider yourself a neutral public forum or are you engaged in political speech which is your right under the First Amendment?” asked Cruz.
Zuckerberg said that Facebook’s goal is ‘certainly’ not to engage in political speech but that he was not familiar with specific legal language to which Cruz referred.
“Mr. Zuckerberg, I will say there are a great many Americans who I think are deeply concerned that Facebook and other tech companies are engaged in a pervasive pattern of bias and political censorship,” said Cruz.
Cruz listed several examples of what he thought reflected a pattern of bias. “In May of 2016 Gizmodo reported that Facebook had purposely and routinely suppressed conservative stories from trending news including stories about CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference); including stories about Mitt Romney; including stories about the Lois Lerner IRS scandal,” said Cruz.
“In addition to that, Facebook has initially shut down the Chick fil A appreciation day page; has blocked a post of a Fox News reporter; has blocked over two dozen Catholic pages,” Cruz continued. “And most recently [Facebook] blocked Trump Supporters Diamond and Silk’s page with 1.2 Million Facebook followers after determining their content and brand were – quote – unsafe to the community.” Cruz concluded his question with, “To a great many Americans, that appears to be a pervasive pattern of political bias. Do you agree with that assessment?”
“Senator, let me say a few things about this,” Zuckerberg began. “First, I understand where that concern is coming from because Facebook and the tech industry are located in Silicon Valley which is an extremely left leaning place,” he continued. “This is actually a concern that I have and I try to root out – in the company – is making sure that we don’t have any bias in the work that we do. And I think it is a fair concern that people would wonder about.”
“Are you aware of any ad or page that has been taken down from Planned Parenthood?” Cruz asked Zuckerberg.
“I’m not,” replied Zuckerberg.
“How about Moveon.org?” asked Cruz.
“I’m not specifically aware…” said Zuckerberg.
“How about any democratic candidate for office?” asked Cruz.
“I’m not specifically aware. I’m not sure,” said Zuckerberg.
“In your testimony, you say that you have fifteen to twenty-thousand people working on security and content review. Do you know the political orientation of those fifteen to twenty-thousand people engaged in content review?” asked Cruz.
“No Senator, we do not generally ask people about their political orientation when they are joining the company,” said Zuckerberg.
“As CEO, have you ever made hiring or firing decisions based on political positions or what candidates [employees] supported?” asked Cruz.
“No,” said Zuckerberg.
“Why was Palmer Luckey fired?” asked Cruz.
According to CNET: Twenty-Five-year-old Palmer Freeman Luckey is the inventor of the Oculus Rift, the first in the recent wave of virtual reality headsets, which took advantage of the rapid advancement of mobile phone components (particularly high-res LCD and OLED screens and motion sensors) to create the convincing illusion of stepping into another world.
“That is a specific personnel matter that seems like it would be inappropriate to speak to here,” said Zuckerberg.
“You just made a specific representation that you didn’t make decisions based on political views. Is that accurate?” asked Cruz.
“I can commit that it was not because of a political view,” said Zuckerberg.
Cruz went on to ask Zuckerberg, referring to the CEO’s opening remarks, “Do you feel it’s your responsibility to assess users – whether they are good and positive connections – or ones that those fifteen to twenty-thousand people deem unacceptable or deplorable.”
“Senator, I think there are a number of things that we would all agree are clearly bad: foreign interference in our elections; terrorism; self-harm,” Zuckerberg responded.
“I’m talking about censorship,” said Cruz.
“Well, I think that you would probably agree that we should remove terrorist propaganda from the service. That I agree is clearly bad activity that we want to get down and we’re generally proud of how well we do with that,” said Zuckerberg.
The Facebook leader concluded his conversation with Senator Cruz. “I am very committed to making sure that Facebook is a platform for all ideas. That is a very important founding principle of what we do,” said Zuckerberg. “We’re proud of the discourse and different ideas people can share on the service. That is something that – as long as I am running the company – I am going to be committed to making sure that is the case.”
Zuckerberg appeared before lawmakers on Tuesday to try to restore public trust in his company and stave off federal regulation that some lawmakers have floated. His company is under fire in the worst privacy crisis in its history after it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica, a data-mining firm, gathered personal information from 87 million users.