Mark Zuckerberg may look like a lonely figure when he sits down today to face grilling from a joint Senate committee about privacy and election interference. But in reality, he’ll be far from alone — because his company, Facebook, has in just a few short years built a massive lobbying entourage of Washington power brokers.
And that influence — along with Zuckerberg’s expected mea culpa — may be enough, privacy experts say, to blunt any talk of significant consumer privacy regulations meant to reign in Facebook and other tech giants, regardless of the angry bluster Zuckerberg endures on Capitol Hill both today and tomorrow.
“I think it will be really interesting whether Republicans give Facebook a pass given Zuckerberg’s prostrate apology stance — ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry. We won’t do it again,’” said Jonathan Taplin, author of Move Fast Break Things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy. “I have a feeling a lot of Republicans who hate regulation of any kind will give him a pass,” and Democrats on the committee “will probably try to hold his feet to the fire, but I’m not positive that will be enough.”
For the past couple of weeks, Facebook has faced intense criticism after reports that Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm tied to President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, accessed the personal data of 87 million Facebook user accounts. Zuckerberg, long reluctant to personally deal with Washington, agreed to come to the capital to testify today before a joint hearing of the Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees and tomorrow at the House Energy and Commerce Committee. To get ready, Zuckerberg has been prepped in part by Washington law firm WilmerHale, which specializes in data security and privacy law, according to The Wall Street Journal.
“Our joint hearing will be a public conversation with the CEO of this powerful and influential company about his vision for addressing problems that have generated significant concern about Facebook’s role in our democracy, bad actors using the platform, and user privacy,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.