At a gruelling Congressional hearing into Facebook’s ongoing privacy scandal, CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s own private data has been leaked.
In a twist of fate, the 33-year-old’s notes were photographed and quickly circulated online, providing an interesting insight into how Mr Zuckerberg was coached for the most important moment of his career.
The two pages of notes told him what to do if ‘attacked’ by senators – “Respectfully, I reject that” – and warned “don’t say” Facebook already complies with the European Union’s new data protection law.
Given he was in Washington DC on Wednesday to answer for the leak of private data of 87 million Facebook users, many took delight in his misfortune.
If Mr Zuckerberg had been asked if he would resign, his answer, according to the notes, would have been a firm no.
“[I] founded Facebook. My decisions. I made mistakes,” the notes read. “Big challenge, but we’ve solved problems before, going to solve this one.”
His actual answer closely followed the cheat sheet.
“It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here,” he told the joint hearing of the Senate judiciary and commerce committee.
The notes failed to save Mr Zuckerberg from the ire of the US Senate.
As the marathon hearing on Capitol Hill entered its fourth hour, it became clear whatever goodwill he had with lawmakers was wearing thin.
The Facebook founder made sweeping promises to regulate fake accounts, stop foreign interference in elections and crack down on data leaks.
But instead of satisfying the 44 senators charged with grilling Mr Zuckerberg, the hearing appears to have only created more mistrust between the social media goliath and those in Washington.
Mr Zuckerberg, a notoriously private and cerebral figure, knew the stakes were high. In the three weeks since it was revealed 87 million users’ private data was leaked to political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, Facebook’s reputation has been irreparably damaged.
The 33-year-old was ashen-faced as he shuffled into the jam-packed hearing room for the start of two days of hearings.
“We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake,” he told the hearing.
The billionaire spoke about his naivety after establishing Facebook in his Harvard dorm aged 19 and how he saw the platform as a company for good.
“Facebook is an idealistic and optimistic company. For most of our existence, we focused on all of the good that connecting people can do,” he said.
But it’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm as well.”
Mr Zuckerberg told lawmakers the company was investigating tens of thousands of app developers that had access to large amounts of data in the past and claimed Facebook would employ 20,000 people to review content by the end of 2018.
He boasted his company was developing artificial intelligence to scan for terrorist propaganda and hate speech and said it had changed rules about how much private information app developers could access.
But the mood in the room soured after it was revealed the company first knew about the Cambridge Analytica leak in November 2016 and failed to notify any authorities.
As the hearing dragged on, increasingly frustrated senators accused the Facebook CEO of failing to answer critical questions such as why the company waited more than a year to act and why it had not told users their data had been compromised.
“Your business model is to maximise profit over privacy,” Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal said.
“Unless there are specific rules and requirements enforced by outside, I have no assurances these vague commitments are going to produce action.”
Mr Zuckerberg also became exasperated and rolled his eyes as he was forced to repeatedly explain Facebook’s business model and dispel what he called “conspiracy theories” that Facebook had the ability to listen to people’s calls.
At times, Mr Zuckerberg and lawmakers openly clashed over the introduction of legislation that would protect the privacy of children online.
Throughout the five-hour hearing, the Facebook founder also remained deeply resistant to suggestions he used his influence to help push new privacy bills through Congress.
Senators – with a reported average age of 71 – also appeared confused by how Facebook worked, with Mr Zuckerberg repeatedly having to inform lawmakers the company was not in the business of selling users’ data.
Despite assurances on Wednesday that political or fundraising pages would be authenticated, less than 24 hours earlier CNN alleged several Australian union workers were profiting from a fake Black Lives Matter page.
Heavy-hitting senators such as former Republican presidential nominee Ted Cruz pushed Mr Zuckerberg on what he called “a pervasive pattern of bias and political censorship” while Democratic rising star Cory Booker demanded to know why discriminatory advertisers were still able to exclude people of colour from ad campaigns.
But try as they might, Washington was unable to land a body blow on the Facebook CEO.
Mr Zuckerberg assured Congress he believed Facebook was responsible for all the material it publishes, but it was obvious the company was suffocating in its attempt to police it.
“I think it’s clearly content policy enforcement we need to do a lot better at,” he said.
“I am optimistic over a five- to 10-year period, we’ll have artificial intelligence tools that can get into the linguistic nuances, but today we’re just not there on that.”
Senator Chris Coons retorted: “We just can’t wait five years to get offensive material taken off the internet.”
Mr Zuckerberg will appear for a second day of testimony on Thursday.