Shares started to spike at 2:52 p.m. ET, as Zuckerberg was delivering his opening remarks to the committee. As of 3:20 p.m. ET, while he was still testifying, Facebook shares were up 4.8%, to $165.52 per share. [UPDATE: Facebook stock closed up 4.5% for the day, to $165.04 per share — a nearly three-week high — with most of the gains coming after the Senate hearing started.]
“We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. It was my mistake, and I’m sorry,” Zuckerberg told the senators in his prepared remarks.
What seems to have reassured Wall Street: No real bombshells came out at the Senate hearing at what amounted to political theater. Zuckerberg also countered senators’ questions about whether Facebook should be subjected to tougher new regulations by reiterating that he thinks the discussion should be about “the right regulations.”
After more than a week of prep training, Zuckerberg was succinct and apologetic, and he expressed willingness to follow up to provide additional information. He also acknowledged later, “In retrospect I think we view it as a mistake that we didn’t inform people” when the company learned in 2015 that Cambridge Analytica had improperly obtained the data. In the weeks since the Cambridge Analytica disclosures came out, Zuckerberg — after initially sitting on the sidelines — has apologized and discussed what Facebook is trying to do rectify the situation.
Broader markets were already buoyed Tuesday after fears ebbed of a U.S. trade war with China were mitigated by comments from Chinese president Xi Jinping earlier calling for “dialogue” between the two countries rather than “confrontation.”
During Tuesday afternoon’s hearing, the senators asked the CEO about a range of topics. Those included its handling of the Cambridge Analytica situation, in which data on up to 87 million users was sold by a third-party researcher to the U.K. political consulting firm; its policies about user privacy; hate speech; and how Facebook is trying to address foreign actors trying to influence elections. A few members of the committee, including Sen. Bill Nelson (D.-Fla.), warned Zuckerberg that Congress may step in to pass new laws governing Facebook’s ability to collect user data but stopped short of explicitly threatening to do that.
At one point, asked by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) whether Facebook will remain free in perpetuity, Zuckerberg responded, “there will always be a version of Facebook that will be free.” The remark set off speculation that Facebook may be thinking of rolling out an ad-free subscription plan at some point.
The joint hearing before the Senate Judiciary and Senate Commerce Committees was scheduled to start at 2:15 p.m. ET, but kicked off around 2:30.