Facebook CEO Zuckerberg dines with senators in DC

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Facebook (FB.O) Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg met with a half-dozen U.S. senators on Wednesday for dinner as the company seeks to boost its reputation in Washington.

FILE PHOTO: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg makes his keynote speech during Facebook Inc’s annual F8 developers conference in San Jose, California, U.S., April 30, 2019. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

The social media giant has been under fire on a number of fronts for more than a year and 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.

Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat and vice chair of the Intelligence Committee, helped organize a dinner for Zuckerberg with other senators at the company’s request, Warner spokeswoman Rachel Cohen said.

At an unnamed restaurant, the senators and Zuckerberg discussed “the role and responsibility of social media platforms in protecting our democracy, and what steps Congress should take to defend our elections, protect consumer data, and encourage competition in the social media space,” she said.

It is Zuckerberg’s first trip to Washington since April 2018, when he fielded 10 hours of questions over two days from nearly 100 U.S. lawmakers over privacy issues, election security and potential regulation.

Zuckerberg is set to be on Capitol Hill Thursday to hold additional meetings, including with Utah Senator Mike Lee, a Republican.

Zuckerberg will be in Washington to “talk about future internet regulation” with policymakers but has no public events planned, Facebook said in a statement Wednesday.

A person briefed on the matter said he was also expected to hold meetings with the Trump administration. A White House spokesman declined to comment.

Facebook, which agreed to a record-setting $5 billion settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over privacy practices in July, also faces antitrust investigations by the FTC and a group of state attorneys general.

The FTC privacy probe was triggered last year by allegations that Facebook violated a 2012 consent decree by inappropriately sharing information belonging to 87 million users with the now-defunct British political consultancy Cambridge Analytica. The consultancy’s clients included Trump’s 2016 election campaign.

The world’s largest social media network has also drawn ire from Capitol Hill after it announced plans in June to launch the Libra crypto currency as it expands into e-commerce. The project, comprised of a consortium of financial firms based in Switzerland, is scheduled to launch in 2020.

Regulators, central banks and politicians in the United States and Europe worry that Libra has the potential to upend the world financial system, harm privacy and foster money laundering.

Facebook faces scrutiny from lawmakers on a wide range of issues, including privacy, market power, efforts to combat extremism online, preventing foreign interference in campaigns, and accusations of political bias.

The company is also being probed by a group of state attorneys general led by New York.

Once lauded as engines of economic growth, the companies in social media, internet search, e-commerce and other digital technologies have increasingly been on the defensive over lapses such as privacy breaches and their outsized market influence.

Facebook, which owns one-time rivals Instagram and WhatsApp, has more than 1.5 billion daily users.

Reporting by David Shepardson, Editing by Leslie Adler and Christopher Cushing

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