Where is Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg?
That is the most prevalent question from people following Facebook’s data scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, the data firm Trump hired to help with his 2016 presidential campaign. Over the weekend, we learned that Cambridge Analytica collected data from some 50 million Facebook users without their consent back in 2015, a revelation that has led to a public outcry about Facebook’s data policies, a tanking stock price and fear of increased regulation.
Facebook has dealt with these kinds of firestorms before — it is still grappling with the aftershocks of the 2016 presidential election, for example, in which Russian sources used Facebook to spread disinformation and sow political unrest among voters.
But this time feels different. Users are fed up. Politicians are fed up. And investors are clearly concerned: Facebook just had its worst two-day stock performance since 2012, the year the company IPO’d. It has lost more than $50 billion off its market cap.
Smart people in the tech industry are speculating that more regulations might be on the horizon. The hashtag #DeleteFacebook was trending on Twitter when Brian Acton, the co-founder of WhatsApp, which Facebook bought for $19 billion in 2014, joined in with his own call to action. The WhatsApp acquisition deal made Acton a billionaire. (He left Facebook in the fall, and a WhatsApp spokesperson declined to comment.)
Throughout it all, Zuckerberg has been quiet, a notable absence considering the gravity of the situation, and the fact that he has so frequently been the face of Facebook’s PR strategy following the 2016 election.
Where is Zuckerberg, and what is actually at stake here? A source inside the company says Zuckerberg’s weekly Q&A session with employees is still on the calendar for this Friday, so expect to hear from him before that, as it’s likely that Facebook doesn’t want his first comments on the matter to surface from an employee leak.
Here are the biggest questions surrounding Facebook right now:
Where is Facebook’s leadership?
Facebook’s two most prominent executives, Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg, haven’t said anything about Cambridge Analytica, and were notably absent from a Q&A session for employees on Tuesday intended to help explain the situation internally. It was notable enough that a company spokesperson issued this statement.
“Mark, Sheryl and their teams are working around the clock to get all the facts and take the appropriate action moving forward, because they understand the seriousness of this issue. The entire company is outraged we were deceived. We are committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people’s information and will take whatever steps are required to see that this happens.”
There is no doubt that Zuckerberg and Sandberg are involved in the company’s process here. (Sandberg, who has been at Facebook for a decade and is Zuckerberg’s No. 2, is credited with building the company’s entire business.) Their public absence can likely be explained by looking back at how Facebook handled the early stages of its Russia investigation in late 2016. Remember when Zuckerberg spoke a few days after the election and said that it was “crazy” that fake news could have impacted the election? It’s likely that Facebook’s PR teams are trying to avoid a similar situation here before they have all the facts.
Is Facebook under investigation from the FTC?
That’s what Bloomberg reported on Tuesday, and a source inside Facebook says that the FTC has reached out with a heads-up that it will send over a list of questions about the Cambridge Analytica situation. Those questions are expected by the end of the week, and will likely fall on the shoulders of Erin Egan, Facebook’s chief privacy officer.
In a statement attributable to Rob Sherman, Facebook’s deputy chief privacy officer, the company said: “We remain strongly committed to protecting people’s information. We appreciate the opportunity to answer questions the FTC may have.”
The FTC’s involvement with Facebook dates back to a 2011 consent decree that the social giant signed promising to improve its privacy practices. The FTC would seemingly like to ensure that Facebook did not violate this decree. In a story published on Sunday, a former director inside the FTC told the Washington Post that Facebook could face massive fines if it’s found that it did indeed violate the privacy promises it made to the FTC.
An FTC spokesperson said, “We are aware of the issues that have been raised, but cannot comment on whether we are investigating. We take any allegations of violations of our consent decrees very seriously as we did in 2012 in a privacy case involving Google.”
Is that the biggest concern here for Facebook?
Probably not. A fine from the FTC could just be the beginning. Facebook has a ton of money in the bank; a financial penalty would likely be a temporary issue.
The bigger concern for Facebook would be increased privacy regulations. Facebook’s entire business is built on collecting a lot of information about its users so that it can sell hyper-targeted advertising. Any restrictions on that data collection would be a serious threat to Facebook’s business.
That reality feels like it’s still a way off, but elected officials are already circling. Some lawmakers are asking Zuckerberg to come testify in front of Congress; attorneys general for both Massachusetts and New York have announced a joint investigation into the company’s role in allowing Cambridge Analytica to collect user data.
“Attorneys General Healey and Schneiderman have raised several important questions. We appreciate their attention to this matter and look forward to responding,” a Facebook spokesperson said.
It's time for Mr. Zuckerberg and the other CEOs to testify before Congress. The American people deserve answers about social media manipulation in the 2016 election.— Mark Warner (@MarkWarner) March 20, 2018
What comes next? A comment from Zuckerberg, hopefully. Facebook is also planning a nationwide phone briefing on Thursday to share more information with attorneys general, including Healey and Schneiderman.
How are insiders feeling?
This is a serious issue, and it’s weighing on company insiders, according to conversations with current and former Facebook employees. It’s serious enough that Facebook held an emergency meeting with employees on Tuesday to explain the issue, and serious enough that top executives are trying to answer questions about what happened outside of the company’s traditional PR outreach.
Facebook’s chief security officer, Alex Stamos, is planning to leave the company amid disagreements over how Facebook is handling its response to the Russia and fake news incidents post-election. As CSO, Stamos led the team in charge of hunting down Russian ads on the platform, making his departure a prominent one. It’s one of the first times we have heard about Facebook executives clashing internally over how to handle the fake news issue.
Is Stamos’s departure a sign of more to come? Will Zuckerberg and Facebook’s leadership need to convince employees that Facebook is working in the right direction?
What has Facebook actually done so far?
The story is moving quickly. On Friday, Facebook suspended the accounts of Cambridge Analytica and its parent company, Strategic Communication Laboratories. On Monday, the company announced that it would audit Cambridge Analytica to determine if any of the user data had not been deleted, but showed up for the audit and had to stand down at the request of the U.K. Information Commissioner’s Office, which is “conducting its own on-site investigation,” according to Facebook’s blog.
Then on Tuesday, Cambridge Analytica suspended its CEO after an undercover reporter captured video of the firm’s top executives discussing extortion techniques it uses to help some of its clients.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.