During a press conference call, Zuckerberg addressed various concerns users and governments have raised about misuse of the Facebook platform.
April 4, 2018 6 min read
For all of Facebook’s efforts to stop election interference and other attempts to manipulate users, the battle will wage on indefinitely, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said during a press conference call this afternoon.
“You never fully solve security. It’s an arms race,” Zuckerberg said. “I’m confident that we’re making progress against these adversaries, but they’re very sophisticated.”
Today’s call followed news that Zuckerberg will testify before U.S. Congress on April 11, along with the publication of two Facebook blog posts that enumerated new ways in which Facebook will make its terms and data policy clearer and an update on its plans to restrict data access.
Zuckerberg explained that, on the issue of Russian election interference, Facebook didn’t think ahead to predict the tactics that the Russian government employed. They expected traditional methods, such as phishing, but the misinformation campaign that the Internet Research Agency (IRA) executed was far beyond what the company imagined.
Given all of the issues Facebook is answering for today, from the Cambridge Analytica data breach scandal and other privacy issues related to third-party developer access to election interference and the spread of fake news on the platform, the road ahead will be long, Zuckerberg explained.
“I wish that I could snap my fingers and in three months, or six months, have solved all of these issues,” Zuckerberg said, noting that the platform is far to complex for an expectation of a resolution any time soon. It will be a “multi-year effort, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to get better every month.” He said he hopes Facebook is currently one year into a “massive three-year push” to resolve the issues that plague the platform.
During the call, Zuckerberg repeated many of the points he’s made over the past couple of weeks, since news of the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke: Facebook should have done more up front to predict and thwart misuse by taking responsibility for the way the tools it created could be used, rather than just putting them out in the world and trusting that users would have good intentions.
“That was a huge mistake,” Zuckerberg said. “It was my mistake.”
A Facebook post Zuckerberg posted on March 21, and subsequent interviews he did with news outlets, echoed his personal responsibility. On today’s call, when asked whether someone at Facebook has been fired as a result of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Zuckerberg said, “I started this place, I run it, I’m responsible for what happens here. I’m not looking to throw anyone else under the bus for mistakes that we’ve made here.”
When asked whether he is still the best person to run Facebook going forward, Zuckerberg’s answer was an equally unequivocal “yes,” explaining that everyone makes mistakes, and that now, people should hold Facebook accountable to address issues on the platform and take greater responsibility.
He also walked back comments he made shortly after the 2016 U.S. general election — that it was “a pretty crazy idea” to think fake news on Facebook may have had any influence over the outcome.
“I think at this point, I clearly made a mistake in dismissing fake news as crazy,” Zuckerberg said. “It was too flippant and I should never have referred to it as crazy.”
Today, in Facebook’s blog post regarding plans to restrict data access, the company stated that, “in total, we believe the Facebook information of up to 87 million people — mostly in the U.S. — may have been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica.”
This number was initially reported to be 50 million, but not by Facebook. Facebook did not state a number until it was able to calculate the potential number of connections among users of the third-party app from which the data was pulled (data about users and their Facebook friends).
“I’m quite confident, given our analysis, that it is not more than 87 [million],” Zuckerberg said, and noted that the number could in fact be lower, but that the company didn’t want to underestimate.
The blog post revealed that Facebook will no longer allow users to search for people by their phone number or email address, due to the potential for “malicious actors” to “scrape public information” using this method.
Ultimately, a lot of the information that is being misused on Facebook is information that users share publicly. That’s why, Zuckerberg said, Facebook has to “do a better job of putting [privacy control] tools in front of people and not just offering them.”
There’s work to be done to educate users about the control they have over the information they share on Facebook, as well as how Facebook uses the information they do share, he said. For example, “For some reason, we haven’t been able to kick the notion for years that we sell data to advertisers.”
There have also been reports swirling that Facebook intends to “exclude North American users from some privacy enhancements,” which Zuckerberg addressed by saying, “We’re going to make all of the same controls and settings available everywhere, not just in Europe.”
At one point in the call, a reporter asked Zuckerberg whether Facebook has seen a substantial decline in users, or interest from advertisers, given high-profile users’ and brands’ recent public denouncements. WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton, Elon Musk, Playboy and others have all joined the #DeleteFacebook movement.
“I don’t think there’s been any meaningful impact that we’ve observed. But look, it’s not good. I don’t want anyone to be unhappy with our services,” Zuckerberg said.
Even if Facebook can’t quantify the backlash, it’s real, and Facebook knows it.
“It still speaks to people’s feeling like this is a massive breach of trust,” he said, “and we have a lot of work to do to repair that.”