Yesterday’s Senate hearing with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg was at times good theatre, tedious and excruciating. Some of the Senators in the room (average age 62) clearly didn’t understand Facebook, but then who can blame them? If people really understood it, we wouldn’t be here.
That being said, there were a surprising number of odd and / or softball questions. Orrin Hatch, Utahn’s ironic Man of the Year, wondered how Facebook can sustain itself without charging its users (“Senator, we run ads”, said Zuck, with a bemused smile). Many questions were quite tactical, almost help-desk stuff. Does Facebook serve ads based on your WhatsApp ’emails’? (‘No’) or does Facebook do ‘cross-tracking’? (‘What do you mean by that’?, ‘Erm…’). With Facebook’s stock up almost five percent, the market felt it went well.
Some exchanges about Cambridge Analytica were interesting, such as when he was shown the legal agreement that Facebook had consented to allow them to use the data however they wanted (‘Hmm’, first time he’d seen that apparently), or why they waited so long to inform users. The fact is this sharing of data wasn’t really a hack or a bug, but a feature of their platform for many years (and arguably still is). Would have been good to dig into that a bit more.
However, the most interesting moment for me was when Zuck said unequivocally, “We’re responsible for the content” on the platform. What does that mean? And how does it play with the DMCA, which says the opposite, and tech platforms generally feel is crucial to their operation. He also went on to say they were going to ensure “positive” experiences on the site, and felt they needed to act to stop bullying and people feeling unsafe. That’s opening up a whole can of worms and I really don’t see how Facebook with its current model can deliver. Pass the popcorn, this could get interesting.