Illustration: Sarah Grillo / Axios

Facebook is conducting a press blitz that's unprecedented for the company as it prepares for CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s debut appearance before Congress next week. The once media-shy Zuckerberg has given numerous interviews and took an hour-long Q&A with reporters Wednesday. Top lieutenant Sheryl Sandberg is all over television, and the company has been flooding reporters’ inboxes with new privacy-centric changes.

Why it matters: By rolling out privacy updates and interviews with apologetic executives, the company is trying to give Zuckerberg material he can use to save himself when he faces fired-up lawmakers. But the new revelations about the scale of Facebook’s privacy scandals are giving critics on Capitol Hill more to work with, too.

What they’re doing: Creating a highlight reel of privacy and accountability improvements for Zuckerberg to play for lawmakers next week.

  • Reining in the ways that third parties can access its data.
  • Cracking down on Russian operatives. The company said on Tuesday that it had removed accounts, pages and ads associated with the troll farm Internet Research Agency from both Facebook and Instagram.
  • Clarifying privacy settings, and creating a page for users to see a birds-eye view of their data.
  • Updating its terms of service to spell out more clearly what data its services collect.

The company is also trying to minimize any surprise disclosures that Zuckerberg could be forced to reveal at the witness table. For example, it released on Wednesday the official number of users (as much as 87 million) that could have had their data exposed in the Cambridge Analytica fiasco and hinted that an even vaster number of users could have been subject to similar privacy abuses.

The executives are testing their messages ahead of the big day:

  • Zuckerberg said on a call with reporters on Wednesday that lasted nearly an hour that the company “didn’t take a broad enough view of what our responsibility is and that was a huge mistake. It was my mistake.” And, he said, he can fix it.
  • Chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, who has already appeared on CNBC after the Cambridge Analytica story broke, will appear on NBC’s Today Show, Fox News, PBS, NPR and Bloomberg this week.

Between the lines: Zuckerberg's challenge is to avoid the screw-ups of other corporate executives called to account on Capitol Hill. That includes coming across as defiant, as Bill Gates did defending Microsoft in the heat of his firm's '90s antitrust battle, or tone deaf, like the auto executives who flew private to D.C. seeking a bailout.

A Facebook source tells Axios that viewers and readers are likely to hear less from the chief executive as next week approaches: “His focus will be preparing for testimony.”

Go deeper

Updated 30 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court blocks Alabama curbside voting measure

Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Wednesday evening blocked a lower court order that would have allowed voters to cast ballots curbside at Alabama polling places on Election Day.

Whit it matters: With less than two weeks until Election Day, the justices voted 5-3 to reinstate the curbside voting ban and overturn a lower court judge's ruling designed to protect people with disabilities during the coronavirus pandemic.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Politics: Senate Democrats block vote on McConnell's targeted COVID relief bill McConnell urges White House not to strike stimulus deal before election.
  2. Economy: Why the stimulus delay isn't a crisis (yet).
  3. Health: New York reports most COVID cases since MayStudies show drop in coronavirus death rate — The next wave is gaining steam.
  4. Education: Schools haven't become hotspots — San Francisco public schools likely won't reopen before the end of the year.
  5. World: Spain becomes first nation in Western Europe to exceed 1 million cases.

U.S. officials: Iran and Russia aim to interfere in election

Iran and Russia have obtained voter registration information that can be used to undermine confidence in the U.S. election system, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe announced at a press conference Wednesday evening.

Why it matters: The revelation comes roughly two weeks before Election Day. Ratcliffe said Iran has sent threatening emails to Democratic voters this week in states across the U.S. and spread videos claiming that people can vote more than once.