Today Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will sit for one of two congressional hearings scheduled this week. I'm being told that Zuckerberg plans to wear a suit instead of his signature t-shirt, but I'm also being told this sartorial choice is just one in a series of desperate visual ploys designed to convince lawmakers that Zuckerberg is not a robot teenager but rather, a serious guy running a platform used by 2 billion people that is not shady and does not need any regulations please and thank you so very much Senators of the United States of America.
At today's hearing, Senators—including our very own Maria Cantwell—from two committees will ask Zuckerberg questions about how and why Cambridge Analytica was able to harvest data from 87 million Facebook users. Lawmakers were all over the Sunday morning shows talking a big game about how they will expand their interrogation of Zuckerberg to include questions about the glut of fake news on the site, the company allegedly lying to users about keeping their data private, Russian bot armies, and Facebook's broader role in transforming a thriving Democracy (lol) into a bloody digital battlefield of scattered and warring tribes.
In his prepared testimony, Zuckerberg characterizes the company's exploitation of user data as a "mistake," despite the fact that harvesting user data and selling it to advertisers is the platform's business model.
On Face the Nation, GOP Sen. John Kennedy said Facebook's problems were "too big for Facebook to fix," suggesting lawmakers will consider regulating the company. At minimum, commenters expect Congress to pass legislation forcing Facebook to give users more control over their privacy settings, and to make political ads more transparent, both measures Facebook already plans to take. Others think now's a good time to do a little more, however.
In the Wall Street Journal earlier this year, Greg Ip makes a good case for breaking up the big tech companies. Through its aggressive acquisitions, Facebook dominates photo sharing and instant messaging to the point that "95 percent of young adults on the internet use a Facebook, Inc. product."
Ip also notes that Google and Facebook sucked up 63 percent of the digital ad market last year, some of which would have gone to newspapers. Writing for Splinter, Hamilton Nolan has a couple good ideas for returning some of that money to the industry Facebook gutted in order to grow.
No matter how practical or pie-in-the sky the regulations might be, something needs to be done. We don't have to live in a world where a giant tech company profits from the data it steals from us without our knowledge, and then sells to other companies so they can craft ads to make us want stuff we don't need. (Unless, of course, you're one of those strange people who seek out "relationships with brands." If that's you, then lose my number.) And let's hope harvesting our data and profiting from it is all they're doing. Who knows what those technical brothers are doing with our call and text histories, our DMs, and our high school party pics.
But will Congress do anything now that the 2018 midterm election season is in full swing? Probably not!
Anyway, I bet those Armie Hammer clones from whom Zuckerberg stole Facebook will be watching these hearings atop the giant mounds of bitcoins in their vault. So watch along with them! And play some BINGO, if you want!
Are we ready to play Zuckerberg goes to Congress bingo? pic.twitter.com/VkIvDnphhz— Julia Carrie Wong (@juliacarriew) April 9, 2018