WASHINGTON — Being Mark Zuckerberg means always having to say you're sorry.
The Facebook founder did more of that Tuesday as he testified before two Senate committees. And he'll likely do even more of it before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday, where Rep. Chris Collins, a Clarence Republican, will be among the lawmakers asking questions.
"I'm sure that what we're going to hear – call it the apology tour – Mark Zuckerberg is going to admit that things were done incorrectly, they took their eye off the ball, they're going to do better," Collins said on the Fox Business Network on Tuesday. "I call that his happy place. He'll be returning to that."
Zuckerberg certainly returned to that Tuesday. Stone-faced through much of a marathon hearing, Zuckerberg repeatedly apologized for allowing the social network he founded to be misused, in some cases to the detriment of its 2.2 billion users.
“We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. And it was my mistake, and I’m sorry," he said. "I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.”
So what about Facebook's propensity for spreading fake news? Or the fact that its executives did not seem to notice while Russian trolls tried to use Facebook for their own political purposes? And what about the hate speech that spreads like the flu on Facebook? Or about Facebook allowing a shady British firm with Russian connections to scrape the personal data of 87 million users?
Zuckerberg admitted it all.
“It’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm,” Zuckerberg said at the Senate hearing. “And that goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy."
So went the Facebook founder's latest act of contrition, which would be easier to take seriously if it hadn't been the confession of a repeat sinner.
Zuckerberg has been apologizing for Facebook since before you probably even heard of Facebook. Proof can be found in Wired magazine, which documented his apologies all the way back to the creation of its news feed in 2006.
“This was a big mistake on our part, and I'm sorry for it,” he wrote on Facebook’s blog 12 years ago.
"We really messed this one up," he said. "We did a bad job of explaining what the new features were and an even worse job of giving you control of them."
There's nothing new, either, about Zuckerberg apologizing for Facebook's spread of what once would be considered private data.
"Sometimes we move too fast," he said in 2010 after reporters found that a loophole in Facebook allowed advertisers to access privacy data even if users didn't want them to do so. "We will add privacy controls that are much simpler to use. We will also give you an easy way to turn off all third-party services."
If you don't sense a pattern yet, then check out the Washington Post's graphic detailing 15 big-league Zuckerberg apologies over 15 years.
And that was before Tuesday's highly choreographed mea culpa at the Senate, where he admitted that special counsel Robert Mueller is looking at Facebook as part of his investigation of Russian interference on Donald Trump's behalf in the 2016 presidential election.
"One of my greatest regrets in running the company is that we were slow in identifying the Russian information operations in 2016," Zuckerberg said.
So we get it. He's sorry.
But all those apologies prompt one very serious question.
When is Facebook going to fix the problems – most notably privacy breaches – that have plagued it from the start?
Zuckerberg promised to do better, but still, the answer to that question didn't come clear in Tuesday's hearing.
Lawmakers will get another chance Wednesday, and that may not be their last chance. Collins and several senators said lawmakers will be watching to see if Zuckerberg finally does something to protect users better and to force an end to his apology tour.
And if he doesn't?
"Then we'll have additional hearings if need be and hold him accountable," Collins said.
Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, put things a bit more bluntly at Tuesday's hearing.
“If Facebook and other online companies will not or cannot fix these privacy invasions, then we will,” he said.
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