Watch: Facebook head Zuckerburg faces US Congress

Mark Zuckerberg gives testimony before Congress. - Photo: Screengrab

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg will strike a conciliatory tone today in testimony before Congress as he looks to fend off the possibility of new regulations as a result of the privacy scandal engulfing his social network.

John Thune, chairman of the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committee, struck an adversarial tone in his opening remarks released before the hearing.

"In the past, many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle have been willing to defer to tech companies' efforts to regulate themselves. But this may be changing," he said.

The 33-year-old internet mogul was set to appear in Washington before a joint hearing of the US Senate's Commerce and Judiciary committees some 15 or 20 minutes after the originally scheduled time of 2.15pm local time (6.15am NZT) because of a Senate vote.

Watch live: Zuckerberg gives testimony before Congress

 
 

Hours before the hearing, people waited in a line inside the Hart Senate Office Building, set off by velvet ropes, stretching from the briefing room down a corridor. Some brought folding chairs, while others stood or sat on the floor.

Outside the Capitol building, which houses Congress, online protest group Avaaz set up 100 life-sized cutouts of Zuckerberg wearing T-shirts with the words 'Fix Facebook.'

Zuckerberg, who founded Facebook in his Harvard University dorm room in 2004, is fighting to prove to critics that he is the right person to go on leading what has grown into one of the world's largest companies.

Facebook faces a growing crisis of confidence among users, advertisers, employees and investors after acknowledging that up to 87 million people, mostly in the United States, had their personal information harvested from the site by Cambridge Analytica, a political consultancy that has counted US President Donald Trump's election campaign among its clients.

Zuckerberg, who has never testified in a congressional hearing, said in written testimony on Monday that he had made mistakes and held too narrow a view of the social network's role in society.

On Friday, Zuckerberg threw his support behind proposed legislation requiring social media sites to disclose the identities of buyers of online political campaign ads.

Twitter voiced support for the bill, called the Honest Ads Act, for the first time on Tuesday.

US lawmakers have discussed legislation that would strengthen data privacy protections and enforcement. Tighter regulation of how Facebook uses its members' data could affect its ability to attract advertising revenue, its lifeblood.

Some 40 senators out of the 100-member Senate sit on the committees holding Tuesday's (Wednesday NZT) hearing, setting up a possibly marathon event.

Zuckerberg met with some lawmakers privately on Monday to listen to their concerns before they had a chance to interrogate him in public.

He appeared willing "to turn things around where he sees mistakes that have been made," said Bill Nelson, the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, after meeting with Zuckerberg.

For hearings last year about Russia's alleged use of social media to influence American politics, Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet Inc's Google sent lawyers, angering lawmakers.

Zuckerberg may face a torrid time from some senators. On Tuesday, Democratic Senator Chris Coons, a member of the Judiciary committee, complained via Twitter about fake profiles.

"On today of all days, I just found out that there are two fake Facebook accounts impersonating me, and guess what? Many of the "friends" appear to be Russian accounts," he tweeted. Facebook and Mr. Zuckerberg - this is unacceptable."

Zuckerberg will get a second round of questioning on Wednesday from the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee.

His perch atop Facebook is assured as long as he wants it, given that he remains its controlling shareholder.

But his reputation has suffered as television comedians have mocked his perceived robotic speaking patterns and cavalier attitude toward privacy.

Shares in Facebook are down more than 14 percent since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke last month.


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