Mark Zuckerberg had dinner with senators to discuss looming tech regulations

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a joint hearing of the US Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill, April 10, 2018 in Washington, DC.
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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg went to dinner with about half a dozen senators in Washington, D.C. Wednesday to discuss regulations that lawmakers have been eager to enact on his industry.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., “helped organize” the dinner meeting “at Facebook’s request,” at a restaurant in D.C. Wednesday night, a spokesperson for his office confirmed to CNBC. Warner has been one of the leading figures in Congress championing legislation that would regulate the tech industry.

A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to CNBC Wednesday that Zuckerberg would be in D.C. “to meet with policymakers and talk about future internet regulation.” No public events are planned, the spokesperson said.

The dinner meeting is Zuckerberg’s first known official return to D.C. to face lawmakers since his 2018 testimonies in front of both chambers of Congress following the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Those testimonies marked the beginning of an era of intense tech scrutiny by lawmakers, who have held multiple hearings with Facebook and its peers over the past year about user privacy, content moderation and competition.

“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,” according to the spokesperson.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., also attended the dinner, a spokesperson confirmed to CNBC. Blumenthal sits on both the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Commerce Committee. Earlier on Wednesday, he questioned a Facebook representative about the firm’s content removal practices at a hearing about the responsibility social media companies have to moderate violent content. On Tuesday, Blumenthal pressed the heads of the Federal Trade Commission and the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice to work swiftly in their investigations of Big Tech at a hearing on antitrust.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., the ranking member on the Senate Commerce Committee who also attended Wednesday’s hearing, also met with Zuckerberg Wednesday night, her office confirmed.

A spokesperson for Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., told CNBC that Facebook had reached out to schedule a meeting on Thursday.

As Zuckerberg returns to D.C., Facebook is facing at least two probes into its competitive practices by the FTC and a bipartisan group of state attorneys general. Meanwhile, the DOJ previously announced a broad review of the tech industry, without naming specific companies of focus.

All this comes on the heels of a $5 billion settlement Facebook struck with the FTC ending a probe into its privacy practices. The investigation began after reports revealed that political data firm Cambridge Analytica used Facebook data without user consent to target U.S. voters in the 2016 presidential election.

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