Testimony reveals that Zuckerberg misled Congress over Cambridge Analytica

After over a year of delays, Zamaan Qureshi, policy advisor for the Real Facebook Oversight Board and American University student, won a Freedom of Information Act battle with the Commission to release a 2019 transcript of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s deposition by the Commission. The deposition, available here, shows –

  • Mark Zuckerberg had earlier personal interest in Cambridge Analytica than ever before acknowledged, which calls into question his truthfulness in sworn 2019 Congressional testimony.
  • A January 2017 internal email from Zuckerberg inquiring about Cambridge Analytica’s technical abilities and how advanced they were in their analytics and ad capabilities.
  • By Fall of 2017 he was equating Cambridge Analytica as a threat commensurate with “Russian Intelligence and Soviet States,” in the first draft of a speech delivered on Facebook Live. In the speech, Zuckerberg himself wrote “We are looking into foreign actors, including additional Russian groups and other former Soviet states, as well as organizations like Cambridge Analytica.” The reference was later removed by advisors. This shows that between early 2017 and Fall 2017, Zuckerberg was made personally aware that Cambridge Analytica was a serious threat — and a reference to them was edited out of a notable speech.
  • This timeline calls into question his 2019 testimony when pressed by Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, as he first says he learned about them in March 2018, then a few questions later clarifying he was only aware of them as an entity.
  • The timeline of Mark Zuckerberg’s personal awareness of Cambridge Analytica is the subject of two ongoing lawsuits in the Northern District of California and Delaware.

“This transcript reveals that something changed between January 2017 and September 2017 for Zuckerberg to deem Cambridge Analytica a threat commensurate with Russian Intelligence,” Qureshi said. “But for reasons the Facebook CEO has still not disclosed, the world would only learn about Cambridge Analytica in March 2018. “We may never know who removed the reference from the speech or why, but there’s one thing we can now say for sure: Facebook have gone to great lengths to conceal when Mark Zuckerberg personally became aware of Cambridge Analytica. Before Congress, before the U.K. Parliament, and before law enforcement agencies.”

Zuckerberg was apparently so nervous about his secret SEC testimony that he misspelled his own name at the start, adding an extra “T” to his middle name.

Importantly, Zuckerberg had testified to Congress before and after the SEC deposition (in April 2018 and November 2019 respectively) and was pressed about when he first became aware of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. He maintained to Rep. Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) that it was not until March of 2018 when the Guardian and New York Times published their stories that he became aware and only after her repeated pressing did he admit he may have known the company existed earlier by stating, “I do think I was aware of Cambridge Analytica as an entity earlier I just don’t know that I was tracking how they were using Facebook specifically” (Video Testimony here). But more evidence unsealed in lawsuits in the Northern District of California revealed he may have been aware much earlier, which impacted decision-making to notify board members, investors, and users.

Qureshi worked for more than a year to obtain the transcripts, which have never before been reported. Key takeaways and excerpts of the transcripts are available below.

The Real Facebook Oversight Board urges Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and the House Financial Services Committee reexamine Zuckerberg’s 2019 testimony. The discrepancies show yet again that Zuckerberg and Meta are incorrigible, and need real, independent external oversight.