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Address privacy concerns or face Congress regulation: Senators to FB

WASHINGTON: US Senators Chris Coons and Bob Corker on Friday warned that Congress would impose new regulations to rein in social media giant Facebook, unless the company addresses concerns about privacy and the spread of misinformation on its platform, news agency Bloomberg reported.

Speaking in a joint interview on the sidelines of a development forum in Wilmington, Delaware, the two senators said that Facebook probably would not like what Congress does, so it should come up with a solution first.

"If they don't, if they continue to act as if we couldn't possibly deign to regulate them, they'll get regulated and they'll be unpleasantly surprised with how swiftly it may happen," said Coons, a Delaware Democrat and member of Senate Judiciary Committee. "I think they've got a lot of explaining to do."

Revelations about Facebook's response to manipulation of their social network before and after the 2016 US presidential election, and shifting accounts about breaches of users' privacy, have battered the company's reputation and fueled frustration on Capitol Hill. Coons said the company's leaders should come back and testify before Congress.

The latest controversy erupted after a report in the New York Times (NYT) on Thursday suggested that CEO and chairman Mark Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg were not as involved with the serious issues facing the company as they should have been, and instead were more concerned about defending Facebook's reputation and embarking on an aggressive lobbying campaign to fend off critics.

Zuckerberg had testified at a Senate hearing in April, while Sandberg in September. "They and others need to come together quickly and figure out how they're going to deal with this issue or Congress will — and likely the outcome is not going to be particularly good," said Corker, a Tennessee Republican set to retire in a few weeks.

The NYT report said that Facebook relied on a Republican public relations firm that sought to deflect criticism by encouraging reporters to look into rivals like Google and to pursue stories about billionaire financier George Soros stoking an anti-Facebook backlash in Washington. A frequent target of right-wing and anti-Semitic commentators, 88-year-old Soros is a critic of Facebook, had called it a "menace" earlier.

The two senators and other lawmakers released a letter they wrote to Facebook demanding that Zuckerberg respond to the NYT and other news reports about its practices.

Facebook, however, issued a lengthy rebuttal to the NYT article, denying that it asked a public relations firm to pay for or write on its behalf.

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