Technology

Mark Zuckerberg tells lawmaker he’s not selling WhatsApp or Instagram

Facebook has repeatedly been confronted by calls, including from one of its own co-founders, to split Instagram and WhatsApp off from the social network. But it seems the chances of that happening keep getting slimmer.

US Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, said Thursday in a tweet that he met with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and asked the tech mogul to sell Instagram and WhatsApp. Not surprisingly, Zuckerberg shot down the idea.

Hawley, one of Facebook’s toughest critics, is among the several US lawmakers from both parties who’ve been rubbing shoulders with Zuckerberg this week.

It’s Zuckerberg’s first known visit to Washington, DC, since April 2018 when he testified before lawmakers in the wake of a major privacy scandal. Cambridge Analytica, a UK political consultancy, harvested the data of up to 87 million Facebook users without their permission. In June, Hawley introduced a bill that would make tech companies like Facebook liable for political bias.

Facebook has repeatedly said it doesn’t plan to split Instagram and WhatsApp away from the world’s largest social network. The company has argued that doing so wouldn’t hold it more accountable for its privacy mishaps and other woes. Instead, Zuckerberg has called for more internet regulation around harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability. The company is also working on a way to make it possible for Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram users to send messages to one another without switching apps.

Facebook didn’t immediately have a comment about Hawley’s meeting with Zuckerberg.

On Wednesday night, Zuckerberg met with a group of senators as part of a dinner that Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, helped organized after he was asked by Facebook to do so.

“The participants had a discussion touching on multiple issues, including 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,” Rachel Cohen, a spokeswoman for Warner, said in a statement.

Warner also told The Washington Post that Zuckerberg was questioned about the company’s plans to launch with partners a new cryptocurrency called Libra. “He heard the concerns, but I still don’t have 100 percent clarity on whether they feel like they can launch short of US regulatory approval,” Warner told the Post.

Zuckerberg also spoke with Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Democrat representing the state of Washington, during a separate meeting on Wednesday night focused on data privacy and election security, Reid Walker, a spokesman for Cantwell, said in a statement.

Zuckerberg’s conversation with lawmakers included a wide range of topics, including allegations that the social network suppresses conservative speech, which Facebook has repeatedly denied doing. Hawley said in a tweet that Zuckerberg admitted there “clearly was bias” surrounding a fact-checking dispute between the social network and videos published by anti-abortion group Live Action.

Conn Carroll, a spokesman for Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican, said Zuckerberg met with the lawmaker and talked about “bias against conservatives on Facebook’s platform, government regulation of digital platforms, antitrust enforcement, Section 230 liability, and data-privacy issues.”

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