Facebook has previously only sent lawyers or lower-level executives to Congress.
Facing pressure from lawmakers, users, advertisers, and investors following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has reportedly agreed to make an unprecedented appearance before the U.S. Congress to explain the mess his company has caused.
Facebook has sent lawyers or lower-level executives to Congress in the past. But this time, it will be Zuckerberg fielding questions from lawmakers, according to CNN, based on information from anonymous sources. The Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees have both invited the CEO, and it’s not clear which hearing he is slated to attend. Facebook has not confirmed the news, and a spokesperson for the commerce committee told Recode that nothing was set in stone.
In an interview with CNN last week, Zuckerberg said the company would send “who will have the most knowledge,” and that the person this label fit best could be him. Zuckerberg does not like to give interviews, and his public presence is highly managed, so the testimony is bound to be a big test for the 33-year-old executive.
There are other reasons why Facebook has avoided sending top brass to face lawmakers in the past. In November, ahead of a hearing on Russian meddling on the platform during the 2016 election, an expert on congressional testimony told Quartz that lawyers were more knowledgeable than executives about details of the situation, and would be more skilled at avoiding incriminating the company. The risk of a bad showing from Zuckerberg or Sheryl Sandberg would also be a PR nightmare. Now it seems that the pressure to see Zuckerberg is at a tipping point, and his failing to appear could be worse than the sight of him stumbling through questioning.
The Senate Judiciary committee also asked Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Twitter chief Jack Dorsey to testify, and Zuckerberg’s decision will surely put pressure on the two other executives to show their faces.
Meanwhile, Zuckerberg has declined to testify in front of the UK committee on media and digital affairs, despite having been invited three times. Damian Collins, head of the committee called the refusal “absolutely astonishing.”
Zuckerberg’s decision to heed the request of U.S. over UK lawmakers may reflect the difference between the respective markets each country represents for the company. The U.S. generates more revenue for the company than any other region by far. And the threat of regulation in the U.S. is particularly scary for Facebook, which already faces stricter rules in Europe.
Facebook’s business has been hit by the scandal, and news of the testimony quelled some worries.
“While this will not be a pleasant experience for Zuckerberg and his team going in front of Congress, it is a necessary smart strategic step for Facebook to head to the Beltway as the public fury continues to grow around the Cambridge data leak, which represents the darkest chapter in the company’s 14 year history,” Daniel Ives, analyst for GBH Insights, wrote in a note to investors.