Congress’s Facebook hearings were tough to take seriously

Gabriella Pinos/ Contributing Writer

Mark Zuckerberg’s ten-hour congressional hearings were the equivalent of a teenager explaining to his parents how the Internet works.

The Facebook CEO stood before the Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees on April 11 and the House Energy and Commerce Committee on April 12. The hearings came in response to a scandal last month where a political consulting company, Cambridge Analytica, accessed 87 million Facebook users’ data without their knowledge.

Thousands of Americans took to social media to watch and comment on Tuesday’s hearing, anxious to see what Zuckerberg had to say about his company’s malpractices.

But once the hearing was over, all anyone could talk about was the incompetence of the Senate when it came to technology.

It was hard to take Tuesday’s hearing seriously when senators like Orrin Hatch were unaware of how advertisements work on the platform. In fact, most of them were confused on some of Facebook’s basic functions. When I read that Sen. Brian Schatz asked Zuckerberg if Facebook could decrypt emails from users on WhatsApp, I laughed out loud.

This isn’t to say that the hearing didn’t have its moments. Seeing Sen. John Kennedy tell Zuckerberg that “[Facebook’s] user agreement sucks” was entertaining, and Sen. Dick Durbin’s questions about the CEO’s personal information brought up an interesting point about a user’s right to privacy. However, it didn’t salvage the rest of the hearing that barely scratched the surface of Facebook’s flaws.

Wednesday’s hearing at the House suffered some of the same problems, although more relevant questions were brought up. For instance, Rep. Anna Eschoo asked Zuckerberg whether he was one of the users whose information was harvested by Cambridge Analytica, to which the CEO said he was.

The censorship of Diamond and Silk’s page, where the two African-American women posted videos praising President Donald Trump, was also brought up by Rep. Ted Cruz. Unsatisfyingly, all Zuckerberg could say on the matter was that he had made a mistake.

When it came to his responses, Zuckerberg kept his composure almost to a fault. His answers were very stiff, many of them sounding rehearsed. His facial expression rarely changed, and his voice didn’t waver from its robotic tone.

He was also very fond of apologizing to Congress for his mistakes as CEO. He referenced the platform’s origins and his responsibility as Facebook’s creator multiple times in both proceedings. While he managed to answer Congress’ questions without appearing nervous, he came off as disingenuous at times.

The hearings could have been better with a little more discussion. Each senator only had five minutes for questioning, which made many of the questions feel disjointed. Zuckerberg’s vague, sweeping answers also didn’t help.

After Wednesday’s hearing, I was still unsure of what Congress had accomplished through Zuckerberg’s testimony. Important topics such as the amount of data collected by the platform were never discussed, and there was a severe lack of follow-up questions. For instance, Zuckerberg didn’t mention how his own data was retrieved by third-party companies, mainly because he was never asked.

There’s obviously a lot being held back from the public on Facebook’s part, but it doesn’t seem like this scandal will affect its future.

Facebook has already begun notifying the users whose information was breached last month, and their shares have already increased 4.5 percent as of Tuesday’s hearing. I think the platform, like Zuckerberg after both hearings, will emerge unscathed.



The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of Panther Press Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.


Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash.

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