Zuckerberg visits Trump at White House after Capitol Hill meetings
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg met with President Trump in the Oval Office on Thursday, the same day Zuckerberg met a number of lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Zuckerberg’s trip to Washington D.C. comes as Congress has been debating a privacy law.
Mr. Trump tweeted a picture of the two, calling it a “nice meeting.” A spokesperson for Facebook said it was a “good, constructive meeting.”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 20, 2019
No other details were given on the meeting, which was first reported by Axios.
This is Zuckerberg’s first public trip to Washington D.C. since he testified before House and Senate panels in the spring. A spokesman for Senator Mike Lee of Utah said in a statement that they discussed a “number of topics including bias against conservatives on Facebook’s platform, government regulation of digital platforms, antitrust enforcement, Section 230 liability and data-privacy issues.”
Mr. Trump has persistently criticized social media companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon and his platform of choice, Twitter, embracing conservative critics’ accusations that they censor religious, anti-abortion and politically conservative views. Mr. Trump has claimed, without evidence, that the companies are “against me” and even suggested U.S. regulators should sue them on grounds of anti-conservative bias.
Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri told reporters after his hourlong meeting with Zuckerberg that he said the company had to sell its messaging service WhatsApp and photo sharing app Instagram to prove it is serious about protecting data privacy. Facebook acquired WhatsApp in 2014 and Instagram in 2012.
“The company talks a lot. I’d like to see some action,” he told reporters. “I will believe Facebook when I see some real action out of Facebook.”
Rather than moving users’ personal data from properties such as WhatsApp and Instagram to the core Facebook platform, the company should put a wall around the services or, better yet, sell them off, Hawley said he told Zuckerberg.
Zuckerberg, who requested the meeting, “did not think that was a great idea,” he said.
A Facebook spokesman declined to comment on Hawley’s remarks concerning his meeting with Zuckerberg.
The popular services WhatsApp and Instagram are among some 70 companies that Facebook has acquired over the past 15 years or so, giving it what critics say is massive market power that has allowed it to snuff out competition.
Zuckerberg’s discussion with Hawley touched on industry competition, data privacy legislation, election security and accusations by conservatives that Facebook and other social media giants are biased against right-leaning content.
During his visit, Zuckerberg also met with other senators including Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Lee, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, and Senators John Cornyn of Texas and Tom Cotton of Arkansas. He also declined to answer reporters’ questions when he left Lee’s office earlier in the afternoon.
Congress has been debating a privacy law that could sharply rein in the ability of companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple to collect and make money off users’ personal data. A national law, which would be the first of its kind in the U.S., could allow people to see or prohibit use of their data.
Acting preemptively, Zuckerberg last spring called for tighter regulations to protect consumers’ data, control harmful online content and ensure election integrity and data portability. The internet “needs new rules,” he said.
Facebook, a social media giant based in Menlo Park, California, with nearly 2.5 billion users, is under heavy scrutiny from lawmakers and regulators following a series of privacy scandals and amid accusations of abuse of its market power to squash competition.
The Justice Department, the Federal Trade Commission and the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee are all conducting antitrust investigations of the big tech companies, and a bipartisan group of state attorneys general has opened a competition probe specifically of Facebook.
At Facebook’s request, Warner helped organize a dinner meeting in Washington on Wednesday night for Zuckerberg and a group of senators.
Warner told The Associated Press he wanted Zuckerberg to hear his Senate colleagues’ “enormous concerns about privacy and about protecting the integrity of our political system.”
Their message for the Facebook chief was “self-regulation is not going to be the answer,” Warner said. “I think Zuckerberg understood that.”
Warner and Hawley have proposed legislation that would force the tech giants to tell users what data they’re collecting and how much it’s worth. The proposal goes to the heart of Big Tech’s hugely profitable business model of commerce in users’ personal data. The companies gather vast data on what users read and like, and leverage it to help advertisers target their messages to individuals they want to reach.
The tech companies view with particular alarm a separate legislative proposal from Hawley that would require them to prove to regulators that they’re not using political bias to filter content. Failing to secure a bias-free audit from the government would mean a social media platform loses its long-held immunity from legal action.