September 20, 2019 / 4:59 PM / 2 months ago

Few U.S. lawmakers hit 'like' button after Facebook CEO visits Capitol Hill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrapped up three days of discussions with Washington movers and shakers on Friday, with few if any indications he had won new “friends” to help the top social media company deal with multiple probes by Congress, state attorneys general and federal regulators.

FILE PHOTO: 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/File Photo

Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, won some praise for agreeing to lengthy talks behind closed doors with officials ranging from President Donald Trump to a long list of lawmakers.

Trump posted a photo with Zuckerberg on Twitter and called their Oval Office session on Thursday a “nice meeting.” Facebook called Zuckerberg’s discussion with Trump “a good, constructive meeting” but neither side disclosed specifics.

The company faces a barrage of criticism from members of both parties and the public over issues ranging from political bias to privacy lapses, election-related activity and its dominance in online advertising.

An advertising powerhouse, Facebook also faces antitrust investigations by the Federal Trade Commission and a number of state attorneys general, as well as numerous legislative proposals that seek to restrict how it operates. Facebook may also face an antitrust probe by the U.S. Justice Department.

Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat who arranged a dinner for Zuckerberg with other senators Wednesday night, told Fox Business Network, “Facebook leadership realizes that failure to have federal legislation (on internet issues) is actually going to hurt them and the whole platform industry in the long run.”

After the dinner, Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal said he had brought up Facebook’s “repeated failures” in election security and consumer privacy. “We had (a) serious, substantive conversation even when we may have differed,” he said in a statement.

Another critic was Senator Josh Hawley, a Republican who has accused Facebook of suppressing conservative speech. After meeting with the Facebook founder Thursday, Hawley said discussions had been “frank,” often a euphemism for contentious.

Hawley urged Zuckerberg to sell Facebook’s Instagram and WhatsApp units, which would limit how much information it could compile about an individual.

“Safe to say he was not receptive to those suggestions,” Hawley said dryly.

Zuckerberg was in no mood to talk to reporters between meetings, refusing over and over again to offer even the barest assessment of the discussions.

Also on Friday, Facebook said it had suspended tens of thousands of apps on the social networking platform, its first major update on an ongoing app developer audit it began in March 2018 to prevent a repeat of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Rep. David Cicilline, chair of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel, said Friday that Zuckerberg pledged cooperation with the panel’s probe into online markets.

The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee opened an investigation into competition in digital markets in June, one of a series of investigations facing big tech companies like Amazon.com Inc, Apple Inc, Facebook and Alphabet Inc’s Google.

FILE PHOTO: 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/Aaron P. Bernstein/File Photo

Last week, the panel demanded emails, detailed financial information and other company records from the four companies’ top executives. They have until Oct. 14 to produce the documents.

While lawmakers like Hawley and Blumenthal seemed unsatisfied with Zuckerberg’s responses, Senator Doug Collins, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, took a milder tack.

“I encouraged him to come to the table, help us out — and this is not an adversarial role from my perspective,” Collins said, noting they did not discuss whether Facebook will comply with the document requests. “I think with their involvement you are going to see a lot more participation.”

Writing by Diane Bartz; Additional reporting by Katie Paul; Editing by Marguerita Choy and David Gregorio

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