Mark Zuckerberg survived 5 hours of relentless questioning from Congress -- here's what you need to know

 

  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before the US Senate in a grueling five-hour session on Tuesday.
  • Zuckerberg's delivery was wooden, and stuck closely to company talking points — but didn't make any major mistakes.
  • Many of the senators were painfully tech illiterate, and the 33-year-old exec found himself explaining basic features of Facebook.
  • His answers to some of the tougher questions were less satisfying, but he was never pushed as hard as he could have been.

Mark Zuckerberg didn't really screw up. This time, at least.

On Tuesday, the Facebook CEO testified in front of a rare US Senate joint committee hearing. The subject: Facebook's mounting scandals, from the misappropriation of up to 87 million users' profile data by Cambridge Analytica to Russia's use the platform to spread propaganda and misinformation.

The stakes were high, and a major misstep had the potential to be played ad nauseam across cable news, and define Zuckerberg's — and Facebook's — public image for years. (Recall when, in a notorious 2010 on-stage interview, the executive grew so flustered and sweaty he had to take his hoodie off.)

The 33-year-old CEO is not a natural public speaker, and he stuck closely to talking points with a somewhat robotic delivery. Facebook's new, broader view of its responsibilities was constantly referenced, while his frequent references to starting Facebook in his dorm room even drew jokes from some senators.

But he managed to basically stay on message throughout the five-hour hearing. Facebook is very sorry, it made a "big mistake," it's proactively making significant changes to prevent this happening again, and so on. His remarks closely echoed what he and other executives have repeated in numerous blog posts and press interviews over the last week or so — and shows how Facebook has managed to largely stay ahead of lawmakers' questions.

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before Congress
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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before Congress
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 10: Facebook co-founder, Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a combined Senate Judiciary and Commerce committee hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill April 10, 2018 in Washington, DC. Zuckerberg, 33, was called to testify after it was reported that 87 million Facebook users had their personal information harvested by Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm linked to the Trump campaign. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing regarding the company?s use and protection of user data on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 11, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing regarding the company?s use and protection of user data on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 11, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing regarding the company?s use and protection of user data on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 11, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a joint hearing of the US Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill, April 10, 2018 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook Inc., waits to begin a joint hearing of the Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, April 10, 2018. Lawmakers will grill Zuckerberg on issues ranging from the troves of data vacuumed up by app developers and political consultant Cambridge Analytica to Russian operatives' use of the social network to spread misinformation and discord during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify during a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee joint hearing about Facebook on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, April 10, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify during a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee joint hearing about Facebook on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, April 10, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees joint hearing regarding the company?s use and protection of user data, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees joint hearing regarding the company?s use and protection of user data on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees joint hearing regarding the company?s use and protection of user data, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
The witness table is seen before Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appearance at a joint hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill, April 10, 2018 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a joint hearing of the US Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill, April 10, 2018 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a joint hearing of the US Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill, April 10, 2018 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a joint hearing of the US Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill, April 10, 2018 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify during a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee joint hearing about Facebook on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, April 10, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 10: Facebook co-founder, Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a combined Senate Judiciary and Commerce committee hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill April 10, 2018 in Washington, DC. Zuckerberg, 33, was called to testify after it was reported that 87 million Facebook users had their personal information harvested by Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm linked to the Trump campaign. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg listens while testifying before a joint Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees hearing regarding the company?s use and protection of user data, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg takes a drink while testifying before a Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees joint hearing regarding the company?s use and protection of user data on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Alex Brandon/Pool
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg takes a drink while testifying before a Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees joint hearing regarding the company?s use and protection of user data on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Alex Brandon/Pool
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a joint Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees hearing regarding the company?s use and protection of user data, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2018.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees joint hearing regarding the company?s use and protection of user data on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sits down following a break to resume testifying before a joint Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees hearing regarding the company?s use and protection of user data, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sits down following a break to resume testifying before a joint Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees hearing regarding the company?s use and protection of user data, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) listens as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a joint Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees hearing regarding the company?s use and protection of user data, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) listens as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a joint Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees hearing regarding the company?s use and protection of user data, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) (L) looks on as Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) holds up the privacy agreement of Facebook as its CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a joint Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees hearing regarding the company?s use and protection of user data, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg responds to a question about his own personal information becoming public as he testifies before a joint Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees hearing regarding the company?s use and protection of user data, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a joint Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees hearing regarding the company?s use and protection of user data, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is surrounded by members of the media as he arrives to testify before a Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees joint hearing regarding the company?s use and protection of user data, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 09: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (2 L) arrives at a meeting with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, April 9, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Zuckerberg is scheduled to testify before a few Congressional committees this week on the mass users data Facebook has shared with political operatives. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 9: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives for his meeting with Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., in the Hart Senate Office Building on Monday, April 9, 2018. Zuckerberg is on Capitol Hill to testify before the House and Senate this week. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Mark Zuckerberg and Andrea Besmehn, Mark Zuckerbergs executive assistant at Facebook depart US Senator Bill Nelson's, D-Florida, office on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on April 9, 2018. Embattled Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg has placed the blame for security lapses at the world's largest social network squarely on himself as he girded Monday for appearances this week before angry lawmakers.In prepared remarks released by a congressional panel, Zuckerberg admitted he was too idealistic and failed to grasp how the platform -- used by two billion people -- could be abused and manipulated. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON / The erroneous mention[s] appearing in the metadata of this photo by JIM WATSON has been modified in AFP systems in the following manner: [Andrea Besmehn (R), Mark Zuckerbergs executive assistant at Facebook] instead of [Priscilla Chan]. Please immediately remove the erroneous mention[s] from all your online services and delete it (them) from your servers. If you have been authorized by AFP to distribute it (them) to third parties, please ensure that the same actions are carried out by them. Failure to promptly comply with these instructions will entail liability on your part for any continued or post notification usage. Therefore we thank you very much for all your attention and prompt action. We are sorry for the inconvenience this notification may cause and remain at your disposal for any further information you may require. (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 09: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (C) leaves after a meeting with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, April 9, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Zuckerberg is scheduled to testify before a few Congressional committees this week on the mass users data Facebook has shared with political operatives. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 09: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (3rd L) leaves after a meeting with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, April 9, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Zuckerberg is scheduled to testify before a few Congressional committees this week on the mass users data Facebook has shared with political operatives. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook Inc., exits after a meeting with Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, not pictured, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, April 9, 2018. Zuckerberg, in prepared testimony for the U.S. House of Representatives, said all of Facebook's problems are his mistake. Photographer: Yuri Gripas/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 09: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (C) leaves the office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) after meeting with Feinstein on Capitol Hill on April 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. Zuckerberg is meeting with individual senators in advance of tomorrow's scheduled hearing before the Senate Judiciary and Commerce committeees. Zuckerberg is under pressure to explain why tens of millions of Facebook user's private information was shared with Cambridge Analytica. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 09: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (C) leaves the office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) after meeting with Feinstein on Capitol Hill on April 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. Zuckerberg is meeting with individual senators in advance of tomorrow's scheduled hearing before the Senate Judiciary and Commerce committeees. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 09: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (3rd L) leaves after a meeting with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, April 9, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Zuckerberg is scheduled to testify before a few Congressional committees this week on the mass users data Facebook has shared with political operatives. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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Attempts by high-profile Republican senators like Ted Cruz to highlight perceived left-wing bias at the company failed to elicit a damaging reaction from Zuckerberg. And the tech illiteracy of many senators was on painful display, with Zuckerberg repeatedly having to explain basic concepts and features of Facebook: Zuckerberg explained Facebook doesn't sell user data at least three times.

When it came to harder questions from more tech-literate senators — who asked questions about trust, potential violations of an FTC order, and conversations inside the company — Zuckerberg's answers were less satisfying. But with only five minutes per senator, he was never pushed as far as he could have been.

The embattled executive isn't out of the hot seat just yet. On Wednesday, he will appear again before Congress, this time in front of a House committee. That hearing that could easily run as long as Tuesday's affair, if not even longer.

Here's the key news from Tuesday's Senate hearing:

  • Facebook employees have been interviewed by the special counsel's office. Mark Zuckerberg revealed that unspecified employees from his company have been interviewed as part of Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election. (Zuckerberg himself has not been interviewed.)
  • Facebook was accused of violating a 2011 FTC order, which Zuckerberg denied. The order stipulated how Facebook must protect user data and obtain consent before it is shared, and senators suggested that the Cambridge Analytica scandal means Facebook failed in that. Zuckerberg's (unsatisfying) defense: Users supposedly technically consented to it, even if the systems Facebook had built were clearly flawed. "We explained to people how it worked and they did consent to it," he said.
  • Facebook has considered offering an ad-free, subscription option for users. "In general we believe the ad model is the right one for us," Zuckerberg said. "Certainly we consider ideas like that ... [it is] reasonable to think through." However, he says that there will always be a "version" of Facebook that's free.
  • Zuckerberg admitted most users don't read the social network's terms of service before signing up. The mammoth legalese documents new users are supposed to agree to came up multiple times throughout the hearing. "I would imagine that probably most people do not read the whole thing, but everyone has the opportunity to, and consents to it," he said.
  • Facebook does not have "specific knowledge" of Russia or China scraping data and building profiles on users. Zuckerberg said Facebook is still investigating the Cambridge Analytica scandal and who else had harvested user data, but "I don't think sitting here today we have specific knowledge of other efforts by these nation states."
  • Zuckerberg got grilled over Facebook's perceived political bias. Republican senator Ted Cruz outlined what he alleged was a "pervasive pattern of bias and political censorship" — from the closure of right-wing pages to the alleged suppression of conservative news stories — and hit the CEO with multiple leading questions. But the CEO handled the exchange reasonably well, holding his own.
  • Zuckerberg refused to say what hotel he was staying in. In an awkward exchange, top Democratic senator Dick Durbin asked the CEO what hotel he was staying in, which he refused to answer."I think that might be what this is all about, " Durbin told Zuckerberg. "Your right to privacy, the limits of your right to privacy, and how much you'd give away in modern America."

For more on the Senate hearing, check out Business Insider's complete liveblog of the event »

SEE ALSO: Awkwardness ensues as top Democratic senator asks Mark Zuckerberg if he'll reveal what hotel he stayed at last night

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