The CEO and co-founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, has been answering questions from the Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees. This was an event highly anticipated by the news media from all sides of the political spectrum who anticipated either a vindication of Donald Trump or more ammunition to use against him and his administration.
Almost everyone was left disappointed.
Zuckerberg was well-prepared and briefed on how to answer questions, how to deflect them, and of course, how to avoid being dragged deeper into this quagmire. At times it seems the questioners (all keen to make political points), did not have an overall strategy for dealing with a person who knows his arena well, yet some “blows” were eventually landed.
In an age of presentation and artifice, Zuckerberg, who knows the realm of public perception better than most, played well to his real audience. Not the 44 Senators who had the opportunity to question him, but the more than 2 billion Facebook users who are in the process of deciding if they will continue to use this “free” social media service.
He began by accepting responsibility (sort of) and apologizing (sort of) to those impacted and to those who may now feel their trust has been misplaced. Yet to many on the right of politics, it appeared to be little more than another signal of “virtue.” He said:
“… it’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm, as well. That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy.”
The mentioning of foreign interference, hate speech and fake news were clear sops to the left-leaning viewers who will undoubtedly walk away with the feeling that “Zuck is on our side, let’s go easy on him!”
Links to Mueller
One of the few pieces of startling information that came out was that Facebook appears to be cooperating (and has been for some time) with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible Russian Collusion. Zuckerberg claims that although he personally has not been interviewed by Mueller, that members of his staff have.
This ties in tangentially with the idea that Russian actors set up social media accounts to disrupt the election. In this area, however, Facebook appears to have been quite honest. When questioned by the British government how much impact “Russian Spending” had on the Brexit vote (which for those who follow brit news has followed a similar trajectory to the Mueller investigation), they admitted that less than 200 people had seen the “Russian Ads” and that a total of 73 pence (roughly $1) had been spent.
Privacy and Rights
The Cambridge Analytica “scandal” failed to land any real blows. In essence, the narrative being accepted is that although Facebook does not “sell” user’s data (and why would they? Managing and targeting this data is how they make their money), they do allow third-party developers to access information through extra tools… In this particular case, a “fun quiz.” The quiz developer then sold the information gathered on to Cambridge Analytica (and possibly other companies).
The users who took part in this quiz accepted the terms and conditions by participating, yet as is often the case, either failed to read or understand the implications of the agreement.
Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) made it very clear that the user agreements lacked clarity. He said:
“Here’s what everyone’s been trying to tell you today and I say this gently: Your user agreement sucks. … The purpose of that user agreement is to cover Facebook’s rear end. It’s not to inform your users about their rights.”
For conservatives, the high point of the whole affair is likely Senator Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) cruel dissection and exposure of Facebook’s political bias. He began by listing many conservative or right-leaning organizations and people who have had their pages removed from the platform. Specifically highlighting people like Diamond and Silk who were classified as “unsafe,” Pro-Life groups, and Catholic organizations, the Senator asked bluntly:
“To a great many Americans, that appears to be a pervasive pattern of political bias. Do you agree with that assessment?”
When Zuckerberg responded, he appeared to be on the ropes, admitting that those in Silicon Valley tend to be left-leaning. But here’s the point that almost everyone has missed…Haven’t we been told that censorship is only done through algorithms? Has Zuckerberg let the cat out of the bag that there is, in fact, a small army of censors who use their own biased judgment to take down conservatives?
When asked if he was aware of any Planned Parenthood or MoveOn.org pages that had been censored, Zuckerberg replied that he was “not specifically aware of those.”
Monopoly or Freedom
As individuals, we have choices to make. If a company is offering its platform for “free,” chances are that ” we may find ourselves as the product. This is how ad revenue gets generated. We have to make an individual decision as to whether a group that apparently censors only people with conservative views is a company that we are happy to allow access to our everyday lives. And if we decide that this is a price too high to pay, then it is time to start looking for alternatives.