Outside the Capitol building Tuesday sat dozens of cardboard cutouts depicting Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook, wearing a characteristic T-shirt emblazoned with the message “Fix Fakebook.”
Zuckerberg’s appearance, his first before Congress, turned into something of a pointed gripe session, with senators attacking Facebook for failing to protect users’ data and stop Russian election interference, and raising questions about whether Facebook should be more heavily regulated. Of specific interest were the revelations that sensitive data of as many as 87 million Facebook users were harvested without explicit permission by a political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, which was connected to the Trump campaign.
Zuckerberg, 33, appeared confident and answered questions directly, and his performance helped bolster Facebook’s stock, which ended the day up 4.5 percent. It was the first of two marathon hearings; the second will be before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday.
He was forced to admit mistakes and take responsibility for his company’s actions. “I think it’s pretty much impossible, I believe, to start a company in your dorm room and then grow it to be at the scale that we’re at now without making some mistakes,” Zuckerberg said.
Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., zeroed in on the central issue of the hearing, asking Zuckerberg whether he would be comfortable sharing aloud the name of the hotel where he stayed Monday night, or whether he would be comfortable sharing the names of the people he has messaged this week.
Zuckerberg was the only technology chief in the room, but he was often treated as a stand-in for the whole industry. Facebook has come under intense criticism for the Cambridge Analytica leak and for its initial response.
But the hearing was about more than Facebook; it exposed a critical turning point as the power, sophistication and potential exploitation of technology outpaces what users, regulators or even its creators expected or seem prepared to handle.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.