Mark Zuckerberg’s Congressional Hearing Showed Little But How Out of Touch U.S Lawmakers are with Big Tech

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.”

The next day was generally tougher for Zuckerberg, but did lend itself for yet even more surreal questioning. Republican Billy Long asked him, “What was FaceMash, and is it still up and running?” It was a dorm room prank site that Zuckerberg built over a decade ago, and had no bearing or relevance on proceedings. Not surprisingly, Zuckerberg looked like he was about to howl with laughter at having to respond to the question.

The hours of painful questioning were whittled down by CNET and this cheekily named overview – Mark Zuckerberg explains the Internet (to old people)!

It was not surprising that he was seen to be getting an easy ride:

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.

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.

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.

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