Zuckerberg’s Failure to Respond to Congressional Questions Speaks to a Much Larger Problem

The Meta CEO failed to respond to all of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Questions Expeditiously

On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg had slow-rolled responses to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s questions for the record (QFRs) following its January 31 hearing with five Big Tech CEOs. A spokesperson for the Committee speaking to The Post said that they had granted Zuckerberg “multiple extensions” but he and Meta had only responded to “a small fraction of members’ questions.”

On Monday, the Committee released responses from Discord, Snap, X, TikTok, and Meta. Discord submitted 95 pages of responses, Snap 79 pages, TikTok 117 pages, X 78 pages, but Meta a mere 35 pages.

In its responses to the Committee, Meta outlined steps it was taking to safeguard young users, pointing for the first time (that I can remember) to a comprehensive list of over 30 tools that it said it gives to parents and families. (2 months ago, Meta whistleblower Arturo Bejar commented on LinkedIn in response to a post touting Meta’s 30+ tools: “do you have a list of the 30 tools? I’ve been asking the company and reporters but no one seems to have it.”)

But many of Meta’s replies linked to company blog posts, pulled from canned responses and language made in previous statements, and failed to answer specific questions directed at the company. Unlike in a hearing where only Zuckerberg is testifying, the company has ample time to decide what its responses will look like, run it by teams of lawyers, and decide how to shape the narrative to responses for the record.

As I have learned from my time interning both on Capitol Hill and working adjacent to Congress’ activities, every Committee and individual member office has different protocols in its correspondence with the companies. As a result, the companies’ responses to requests by members are not always made public. For high-profile hearings, typically QFRs are sought by the press and civil society seeking answers to more in-depth, substantive questions that cannot be answered in a hearing.

Following Zuckerberg’s first appearance under oath, Facebook responded to hundreds of questions by a joint Senate Committee providing the Committee with over 400 pages of responses to members’ questions. Yet Meta’s disregard for Congressional requests for questions has become more frequent over the years.

In 2019, Zuckerberg testified before the House Financial Services Committee on Libra, Facebook’s blockchain-based stablecoin payment system. It was during this hearing that Zuckerberg was tested by Rep. Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) about when the CEO first became aware of Cambridge Analytica in a now infamous exchange. The QFRs from that hearing were never posted to the Committee’s website and I obtained them separately from a colleague. They can be found here.

In 2020, Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) wrote to the company in a letter asking for answers to six questions regarding vaccine misinformation running rampant on Facebook. The letter was spurred because Facebook was not cooperating with the D.C. Attorney General’s office request for answers to similar questions.

In a one-page response signed “FACEBOOK INC.” the day before the deadline, Facebook wrote a single paragraph back to the members:

“At this time, we have nothing to share in response to the questions you have raised, outside of what Mark has said publicly. We are not going to comment on advertising and have shared publicly the work we have done on COVID-19 misinformation and will continue to share updates publicly of our efforts to combat and reduce misinformation as there are updates to share.”

Further in 2020, Senator Patrick Leahy asked Zuckerberg in QFRs following a committee hearing on elections about the efforts Facebook had taken to try and stem ethnic violence in Myanmar. The U.N. investigators implicated Facebook in having been complicit in a genocide in that country. Facebook’s response?

“Facebook worked to help protect the integrity of Myanmar’s election on our platform. Many teams at Facebook have worked over the past few years to better understand how our platform is used in Myanmar…”

In 2022, Meta’s Head of Global Safety Antigone Davis testified that Meta did not have a monetary metric quantifying the lifetime value of teenagers on Meta’s platforms. It was later revealed in lawsuits filed by over 40 state attorneys general that Meta in fact had put a $270 lifetime valuation on teenagers.

More recently, a bipartisan group of Senators including Sen. Blumenthal, the lead Democratic co-sponsor on the Kids Online Safety Act, wrote to Zuckerberg:

“Members of Congress have repeatedly asked Meta for information on its  awareness of threats to young people on its platforms and the measures that it has taken, only to be stonewalled and provided non-responsive or misleading information.”

Meta’s obfuscation of Congressional requests will no doubt continue. The company deserves to be called out for its less-than-helpful behavior towards U.S. elected officials. In this case, it’s notable as Zuckerberg’s January testimony became infamous for its stagecraft, where Zuckerberg turned and apologized in Congress to grieving parents and young people. He may have been sorry, but nowhere near sorry enough to answer direct questions from Congress.

Now it’s up to lawmakers to implement policies that force transparency and accountability from the Big Tech companies such that they cannot continue to mislead and distort their business model and practices.