Facebook Gives Lawmakers Follow-Up Answers, but Not Much Is New

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SAN FRANCISCO — During two days of grilling from Congress in April, Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, repeatedly promised to “get back to” lawmakers on questions he could not answer. On Monday, Congress released the social network’s follow-up responses to those queries.

In 454 pages that were made public by the Senate Commerce and Judiciary committees, Facebook provided information to more than 2,000 questions from lawmakers on topics including its policies on user data, privacy and security. Yet much of the information that Facebook included was not new and the social network sidestepped providing detailed answers, in a move that may embolden some of its critics.

In dozens of responses about how Facebook operates and how it deals with its online content, the company referred members of Congress back to its terms of service and community standards. In 224 instances, Facebook simply asked lawmakers to look back at previously answered questions.

“See response to Question 2,” Facebook wrote in seven answers to questions from Senator Ted Cruz, Republican from Texas, who asked whether the company blocked people from seeing content that came from conservative voices.

Mr. Zuckerberg appeared in Washington two months ago after a swell of outrage over whether the company had mishandled its users’ data. The visit was spurred by revelations from The New York Times and others over how Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm with ties to the Trump campaign, had improperly harvested the information of millions of Facebook users.

During Mr. Zuckerberg’s two days on Capitol Hill, he sat through hours of questioning over everything from the company’s business model to its data security and how foreign agents had misused the platform during the 2016 presidential election. He said he would get back to 24 lawmakers with follow-up answers, according to a tally by The New York Times. After the hearings wrapped up, lawmakers submitted a formal list of written questions that they wanted more information on.

In a statement that Facebook included with its answers, the company thanked members of Congress for the questions and said it “did our best to review and answer them in the available timeframe.”

A Facebook spokesman said the company was also preparing to send its responses to questions posed by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

In many of the company’s answers, it sought to assure lawmakers that it was actively looking for other companies that might have harvested people’s personal data. In response to a question by Senator John Thune, Republican of South Dakota, for example, the company said it was in the process of investigating every app that had gathered a large amount of Facebook data and that 200 apps had already been suspended pending further investigation.

Many senators also asked Facebook about its work to secure its platform for the November midterm elections. The company gave nearly identical answers to those questions, outlining how it was deploying new tools to root out fake accounts and disinformation campaigns.

Some senators asked the company a large volume of questions. Mr. Cruz, for instance, posed 119 queries, many of which had subsections. His lines of inquiry ranged from whether Facebook employees had donated money to Republican and Democratic candidates over the years to how Facebook defined its hate speech policies.

Members of Congress said they were reviewing Facebook’s answers.

Follow Sheera Frenkel on Twitter: @sheeraf

A version of this article appears in print on
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of the New York edition
with the headline:
Facebook Directs Congress Back to Terms of Service
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