12 Apr Mark Zuckerberg’s Congressional Hearing Showed Little But How Out of Touch U.S Lawmakers are with Big Tech
Disconnected and asking the wrong questions – that’s the simplest way to sum up the attempts of U.S lawmakers to question Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in his Congressional hearing.
Supposed to be a seminal moment in re-balancing Facebook’s power, the two days passed without Zuckerberg breaking much of a sweat. It wasn’t so much that he was asked difficult questions, rather it just made most of Congress look completely out of touch with the realities of digital society in the 21st century. They looked as if they had never used Facebook or indeed any social media – particularly on the first day. It was a severely missed opportunity.
Senators often looked ridiculous
Through the hours of questioning, Zuckerberg largely answered with ease, his eyes often widening at how obvious the questions were. When Republican senator Orrin Hatch asked how Facebook could run a sustainable business without getting users to pay, a confused looking Zuckerberg replied, with a smirk, “Senator, we run ads.”
Social media reacts
Of course, given their tech savviness, people on social media were quick to lambast the Senators on the poor lines of questioning:
ZUCKERBERG: im ready to answer any questions u might have about facebook
84-YEAR-OLD SENATOR: excellent. mr zuckerberg my farmville farm needs more pigs but i cannot figure out where to purchase them
— Bob Vulfov (@bobvulfov) April 10, 2018
Senator: Mr. Zuckerberg, two questions. Is Flarcebork the same as a Tweeto? And what are “an computer”?
— Rex Huppke (@RexHuppke) April 10, 2018
Zuckerberg has been undergoing questioning for 4.5 hours. He’s settled in, doesn’t seem nervous anymore, and is not losing steam.
— Alex Kantrowitz (@Kantrowitz) April 10, 2018
A good jab
Democrat senator Dick Durbin had perhaps the biggest win for the other side on day one, when he asked Zuckerberg whether he would like to share the name of the hotel that he had stayed in the previous evening. A flabbergasted Zuckerberg said that he wouldn’t, and was caught out. It was a clever approach to making clear the problem of user data exploitation.
A missed opportunity
But overall it was a missed opportunity, because most of the Senators didn’t have the experience necessary to ask the right questions. Overview topics like fake news and hate speech were of course mentioned, but no one pointed out specific examples that are actually quite easy to see. Concerns around Facebook’s consumption of human attention and time well spent were not properly addressed.
A sad day for the United States Senate. Perhaps the next generation will demand leaders that understand basic media literacy.
— James Williams (@WilliamsJames_) April 10, 2018
The most sustained and pointed line of questioning perhaps came from Democrat Kathy Castor on day two. Other Senators would do well to understand Facebook’s privacy problems in this level of detail.
You’re collecting medical data on people that are on the internet whether they’re Facebook users or not, right?’ ‘Yes, we collect some data for security purposes.’
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor questions Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. pic.twitter.com/ovCJsg3CEq
— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) April 12, 2018
House energy & commerce Chairman Greg Walden opened the second day of testimony with an important point:
“While Facebook has certainly grown, I worry it has not matured. I think it is time to ask whether Facebook may have moved too fast and broken too many things,” Walden said. “There are critical, unanswered questions surrounding Facebook’s business model and the entire digital ecosystem regarding online privacy and consumer protection.”
Big tech is simply outpacing the abilities and know how of governments and law makers. That’s what Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony best illustrates.