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Mark Zuckerberg Could Pay for 2016 Election Scandal Personally

Zuckerberg was named in a lawsuit Monday by the D.C. Attorney General for his role in the Cambridge Analytica election scandal from 2016.
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Mark Zuckerberg could be the one to pay for the past sins of Facebook. 

After Donald Trump's U.S. Presidential election victory in 2016, Facebook was accused of letting Cambridge Analytica, a company specializing in strategic communications, use the data of nearly 50 million users to influence voters in favor of the Republican candidate. 

At first the company went on the defensive, denying that it had any liability for broadcasting what turned out to be Russian disinformation. 

But many lawsuits and many boycotts later, Facebook did take responsibility for the information on its platform and promised to do better in the future at recognizing and removing coordinated misinformation campaigns. 

But the changes came too little and too late for some and in 2018, Washington D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine sued Facebook over the scandal. 

That lawsuit, which is still ongoing, claimed that Facebook failed to "protect its users' data, enabling abuses like one that exposed nearly half of all District residents' data to manipulation for political purposes during the 2016 election," according to the lawsuit

Racine has made punishing the company one of his priorities. Earlier this year, a judge ruled against the attorney general, denying a request to add Zuckerberg himself to the lawsuit. 

That request was denied on the grounds that adding the boss to the lawsuit years after it was filed would not serve the best interests of the company's customers. 

Undeterred, Racine's next move is to sue him directly.  

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Mark Zuckerberg Faces D.C. Lawsuit

While Zuckerberg has changed the branding of Facebook to Meta Platforms and is in the process of pivoting his company into the metaverse, those changes haven't stopped the District of Columbia from pursuing action against him and his company. 

"Facebook therefore encouraged (and, at times, teamed up with) developers and researchers to collect and analyze Facebook user data so that it could better learn how to manipulate its own users’ moods and influence what they purchase and even whether and how they vote," the new lawsuit states

The lawsuit points to Facebook's decision in 2010 to open up its platform to third parties. This move was at the behest of Zuckerberg, Racine says. 

"Zuckerberg was fully aware that users would be concerned by this newly vulnerable position. So Zuckerberg engaged in a decade-long campaign designed to convince users that Facebook cared about and tried to protect users and their data. Behind closed doors however, Zuckerberg insisted that Facebook’s policies be 'as simple as we can get away with.'”

The new lawsuit states that Facebook and Cambridge Analytica had a longstanding relationship and that the former encouraged companies like the latter to use the Facebook platform to influence and manipulate consumer behavior. 

And now, the D.C. AG is using Zuckerberg's own words in his lawsuit against the 38-year-old billionaire. 

"Zuckerberg has said time and again that he and Facebook have a responsibility to protect users, and if they can’t, then they 'don’t deserve to serve [them].' Accordingly, the District brings this case to ensure that Mark Zuckerberg is held accountable for his role in Facebook violating the District’s consumer protection laws by misrepresenting the protection of user data and their blatant disregard and misuse of sensitive, personal data belonging to District residents," the lawsuit states. 

Zuckerberg could have fines levied against him personally. The company paid a record $5 billion fine to the Federal Trade Commission in 2019 over the Cambridge Analytica scandal. 

Meta did not immediately return a request for comment.