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Will Facebook be regulated?

Recode’s Kurt Wagner and The Verge’s Casey Newton recap what happened when Mr. Zuckerberg went to Washington.

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, seated at the table where he will testify to Congress, surrounded by photographers Kurt Wagner / Recode

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spent a lot of this week talking to lawmakers, testifying in front of representatives from both houses of Congress during a two-day marathon in Washington, D.C. But are those same lawmakers now going to take action against Facebook?

On the latest episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask, The Verge’s Casey Newton talked with Recode’s Kara Swisher and Kurt Wagner about just that question. Newton was reporting on the testimony from San Francisco, while Wagner was in the room at the Capitol on both days of “Mark Week,” and they agreed that there are several openings for Congress to act — if they can agree on the biggest priorities.

“I do think regulation is coming,” Wagner said. “I think Facebook knows it’s coming, too, which is why they’re being so open and saying, ‘We think regulation could be good, as long as it’s the right regulation!’ [But] I’m not fully convinced that there’s a lot of consensus among Democrats and Republicans about what that regulation will actually look like.”

Newton said he expects pressure to mount on Facebook to consider spinning off Instagram and WhatsApp as those mobile apps continue to grow. One of the most telling episodes of Zuckerberg’s first day of testimony, Newton said, was the CEO’s inability to name Facebook’s biggest competitor.

“I think that that came as a surprise to the Senate, and maybe make this one of the first times that Facebook is forced to confront its size and its power,” Newton said. “Another senator asked whether Facebook simply was too powerful. And Zuckerberg said, ‘It certainly doesn’t feel like that to me.’”

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On the new podcast, Wagner and Newton also talked about the big takeaway from Zuckerberg’s first day on Capitol Hill, when he testified in front of a joint session of two U.S. Senate committees: Several senators seem to lack a basic understanding of how Facebook works.

“You had Senator Orrin Hatch asking how Facebook is able to operate, given that it doesn’t charge a subscription fee — apparently unaware that Facebook has an advertising network,” Newton said. “In a five-hour hearing, I would say that at least three hours worth of the questions, you could have answered by yourself, just by Googling.”

Wagner pointed out that such apparent ignorance is a reminder of how much of Facebook is a black box to people outside of the tech bubble. In other words, “it’s not just the politicians” who don’t get it.

“Even if we maybe didn’t get the questions that we’d hoped for or had been looking for, I do think we got a crash course in the fact that there’s not a lot of people that understand Facebook these days,” Wagner said. “We need to do better, or Facebook needs to do better, at explaining it.”

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