When will Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg agree to answer questions before Congress?
If it were up to Zuckerberg, the answer may be never.
Unfortunately for him, it isn't entirely his decision: The House Energy and Commerce Committee just invited him to testify about a political research firm's secret use of at least 50 million Facebook users' personal information, and he may well be forced to accept it because optics compel him to do so.
Yet as Zuckerberg's language in recent interviews made clear, he'll need plenty of convincing.
Faced with the dual crisis of a precipitous falloff in public trust and sinking stock prices, Facebook provided Zuckerberg for a series of interviews Wednesday. Among other things, he was asked repeatedly if he'd voluntarily testify in front of Congress.
And his answer, repeatedly, was designed to sound like "yes" when he really seems to be saying "no."
"If it is ever the case that I am the most informed person at Facebook in the best position to testify, I will happily do that," Zuckerberg told Wired.
This isn't a "yes." At best, it's a highly qualified "maybe, but..." ― the semantic equivalent of a massive loophole.
Zuckerberg's willingness to answer questions before Congress if he's "the most informed person at Facebook in the best position to testify" gives him cover to never testify. There will always be some employee Facebook can trot out and present as more informed on a particular topic and therefore better positioned to answer politicians' pointed questions.
He proceeded to tell Wired that if lawmakers actually care about substance (presumably over the spectacle of him personally being held accountable), he doesn't foresee a need for him to testify at all.
"So as long as it's a substantive testimony where what folks are trying to get is as much content as possible, I'm not sure when I'll be the right person," Zuckerberg said [emphasis added]. "But I would be happy to if I were."
The founder of Facebook just said he isn't sure he'll ever be able to add anything of substance to a conversation about Facebook and its role in the world.
That's one hell of a statement to make for a CEO whose company influences the thoughts, feelings and actions of more than 2 billion people, and lately has demonstrated it's either incapable of ― or unwilling ― to do so responsibly.