We watched hours of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s Senate hearing, so you didn’t have to. Here are our thoughts…

By Jack J. Kelly and Christine Moukazis

 

Yesterday, my terrific editor, Christine Moukazis, and I endured endless hours of watching the entire Mark Zuckerberg trial before the Senate. We suffered this torture to save you, my awesome readers, the pain and misery. We will simply sum-up this sham interrogation for you.

Facebook founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, was dragged before the Senate to be questioned over allegations that the company blatantly and flagrantly violated its users’ privacy. Interestingly, he was not compelled to answer questions under oath.

The premise of the Senate hearing is questionable, since nearly everyone with an IQ over 80 already knows that, unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury and right to privacy any longer. Major tech companies, the Government, and other entities track, surveill, monitor all our moves, and sell our data to the highest bidders (though Zuckerberg was adamant that Facebook does not sell its users’ data).

Facebook’s privacy practices came under scrutiny after a developer named Dr. Aleksandr Kogan used the social media platform to administer a personality test app that collected data about participants and their network of friends. That data was then given to Cambridge Analytica where it may have been leveraged to optimize political campaigns including that of 2016 presidential candidate Donald Trump and the Brexit vote, allegations which the company itself vehemently denies. Regardless of how the data was appropriated to political ends, that lax data sharing was enough to inflame a firestorm around  Facebook’s privacy policies. Mark Zuckerberg was demanded to grovel before the politicians, beg forgiveness, and take a verbal lashing. The CEO acquiesced to working closely with senators on privacy legislation that is practical and serves the best interest of its consumers, but does not hinder innovation.

Here is our take away.

  1. Mark Zuckerberg is devoid of any human emotion, except for contempt and annoyance at the doddering old senators who had the temerity to dare question him.
  2. In fairness to Zuckerberg, it was as if he was explaining (when they actually allowed him to get a word in edgewise) the basic fundamentals of the Internet and rudimentary advertising business concepts to a group of clueless grandmas and grandpas.
  3. The senators were more interested in filibustering and getting noticed on television than getting anything done. They were all shamelessly competing to see who could achieve the best sound bite.
  4. Zuckerberg was very patient and was incredibly cool, collected, and articulate under this pressure.
  5. The odds are good that there will be some sort of regulations over Facebook and other social media platforms. It could be either self regulations or mandated by the Government.
  6. It’s disheartening to realize that our leaders in Washington are not nearly as smart as business people, such as Zuckerberg.
  7. A number of senators couldn’t wait to slip into their questions that they have met with ‘Mark’ in the past and had chummy conversations with him.
  8. The senators can apparently pick and choose where Zuckerberg should exercise power when it is beneficial to their political agenda. After five hours of accusing Mark Zuckerberg of abusing and influencing political discourse across his social media platform, Senator Chuck Grassley asked the CEO to help alleviate cynicism directed toward the US government. So, let us get this straight. A senator is openly asking Zuckerberg to propagandize the US government in a favorable light? That is rich! You couldn’t write irony that good!

Politicians, however, are extraordinarily good at extorting money from businesses.  The members of the House and Senate committees involved with questioning Mark Zuckerberg about privacy protection are some of the biggest recipients of campaign contributions from Facebook employees and political action committees funded by employees.

Interestingly, the congressional panel that received the most Facebook contributions is the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which will grill Zuckerberg today.  Members of the committee, whose jurisdiction gives it regulatory power over Internet companies, received nearly $381,000 in contributions tied to Facebook since 2007, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The center is a non-partisan, non-profit group that compiles and analyzes disclosures made to the Federal Election Commission. The second-highest total, $369,000, went to members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, that interviewed Zuckerberg yesterday. The Senate Judiciary Committee members that questioned Zuckerberg on Tuesday received $235,000 in Facebook contributions.

So, basically, we learned that our beloved and trusted politicians don’t actually  understand Facebook, can’t comprehend how the company makes money, unaware of the manner in which they serve advertisers, clueless of how much Facebook really tracks their users’ data (both on and off the platform), and to whom this private information is shared.

Zuckerberg is a genius and an incredible business person, who without any human emotions, doesn’t really care about his customers. In the beginning of Facebook, in about 2004, Zuckerberg had this test exchange:  

Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard
Zuck: Just ask
Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS
[Redacted Friend’s Name]: What? How’d you manage that one?
Zuck: People just submitted it.
Zuck: I don’t know why.
Zuck: They “trust me”
Zuck: Dumb fucks

A bright spot in the hearing was when Senator Dick Durbin asked Zuckerberg which hotel he stayed in last night and who he sent text messages to yesterday. Confused, shaken, and not getting the set-up question, Mark blushed, became flustered, and refused to answer the question publicly. The senator retorted that this is the situation that your customers are in, as their private information is shared with strangers.

Maybe there is some hope that there will be some changes to the Internet’s disregard for our privacy. The companies may sense the pressure and self-regulate, or if they don’t, it may be forced upon them by fed-up consumers and politicians.

 

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