Zuckerberg’s answers at the hearing were evasive and lacked veracity.
NEW YORK: Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, faced very few tough questions during a two-day Congressional hearing recently. Instead of pretending to ask tough questions, these so-called “lawmakers” should have simply asked, “Thank you for coming here today, Mr Zuckerberg, would you like some tea and cakes, sir?”
FACEBOOK: A DATA HARVESTING FARM
Given the disclosure that Cambridge Analytica (CA) purchased data on nearly 90 million Facebook users, one would expect US Congress to put Zuckerberg in the hot seat rather than the driver’s seat.
Aleksandr Kogan, a computer scientist in the middle of the Facebook data harvesting scandal, has called out Zuckerberg as a “Total hypocrite, looking for a scapegoat and I’m it.” Kogan went on to add, “Facebook have tens of thousands of apps that did the same thing, probably on a much bigger scale than me…and they’re all out there and Facebook has no accounting for it, Facebook’s audit system doesn’t work.” Kogan blames “Facebook’s business model”, which is based on “selling advertising”. Kogan believes that Zuckerberg’s PR strategy was to divert Congress’ attention with the spurious claim that CA was the only bad actor in Facebook’s massive data harvesting scheme. See the interview here.
On Facebook, users agree to have their every step tracked and to have all of their most personal data transferred or sold to any third parties after they accept, without reading, the long, boring disclaimers contained in the fine print of legal terms and conditions. An instant message sent by Zuckerberg (Zuck) during Facebook’s early days sums the situation up quite nicely:
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 fu@ks
Do the members of Congress actually understand the power Facebook has to heavily influence elections and public opinion? Perhaps they do and are afraid Facebook will manipulate the next campaign in favour of their opponents.
During the hearing, Democrats gave the appearance of concern over the issue of invasion of privacy, while the Republicans appeared interested in the clear suppression of conservative opinion and inferred that Facebook may have become a “too big to control” monopoly that stifles all competition.
DIAMOND AND SILK
Several Congressmen and Senators questioned Zuckerberg regarding Diamond and Silk, two politically conservative black women who have been supportive of President Donald Trump’s platform on YouTube and Facebook since 2016.
The outspoken Trump fangirls were reportedly told by Facebook that their “content and brand” were “unsafe to the community”, according to a Time magazine article. The sisters claimed that Facebook had been censoring their content since September 2017.
Both Rep. Billy Long (R-Louisiana) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) asked about the controversy. Zuckerberg stated he was “not up to speed” regarding the “specifics of this situation” and that Facebook had committed an “enforcement error” in their case. He also stated that the company had contacted the sisters to “reverse” it.
But in a Fox News interview, the two sisters stated that Facebook had never contacted them. So, why should we believe anything Zuckerberg says?
POLITICAL BIAS AND CENSORSHIP
Several Republican lawmakers asked Zuckerberg whether Facebook censors conservative opinion and thought expressed on the social media site. Zuckerberg’s scripted answers were, at best, purposefully evasive and failed to satisfy the lawmakers. In response to a question from Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, he said, “We don’t consider what we are doing as censoring speech.” Zuckerberg’s answer that Facebook weeds out some obviously objectionable content, like terrorism, didn’t satisfy the Congresswoman.
Zuckerberg said the company doesn’t believe in suppressing conservative thought. He said Facebook is meant to carry all ideas—it’s a platform of ideas. Yet, he refused to answer a question on why Palmer Luckey, the virtual reality prodigy, was fired by Facebook after it was reported that he backed a pro-Trump conservative group that trafficked in anti-Hillary Clinton content. Zuckerberg said the matter was confidential, but declared that the dismissal had nothing to do with the employee’s political orientation. Again, Zuckerberg’s answers were evasive and lacked veracity.
US Senator Ted Cruz also addressed Facebook’s bias towards conservative issues. He told Zuckerberg that Facebook “has a pervasive pattern of political bias”. To support his point, he rattled off a list of conservative and pro-life sites that were pulled down, including the “Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day” page, which was banned in 2012, around the time that a number of Americans were protesting the fast-food chain after its chief operating officer made comments against same-sex marriage.
Zuckerberg is part of the tech empire in Silicon Valley that is inherently liberal and left-leaning. He acknowledged as much, but said Facebook makes a conscious effort to be a platform for all ideas. Nevertheless, an extreme liberal-left slant on Facebook is a fact, as is the suppression of all conservative content.
Wired magazine’s Brian Barrett says in an article, “That Zuckerberg would dodge uncomfortable questions is a disappointment, though maybe no surprise.” There’s one important reason behind Zuckerberg’s evasiveness and it relates to the type of company Facebook actually is.
Facebook is not a social media company. Facebook profits from surveillance. Specifically, it is a huge data collection company, and Facebook as well as Zuckerberg profit from the sale of this data.
Facebook is clearly facing a crisis of public confidence. Recode published a new poll showing which tech companies are trusted the least when it comes to handling your data. Respondents to Recode’s survey were asked to choose which company they trust the least with their personal information, from a list that included Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Lyft, Microsoft, Netflix, Tesla, Twitter, Snap and Uber. Facebook came out as the least trusted.
A lack of trust now seems to plague Facebook regarding censorship, too, especially among conservatives. When Zuckerberg’s replies were evasive, many of the lawmakers seemed ill-equipped to push back. It would have made more sense for Zuckerberg to acknowledge lapses and flaws honestly rather than dodging questions or equivocating.
Instead, in the face of calls from US Senator Bill Nelson for the FCC “to be involved with the regulatory and compliance framework regarding Facebook,” Zuckerberg decides to replace Facebook’s head of policy in the United States with Kevin Martin, a former Republican chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, to run interference for the company. Martin will report to Joel Kaplan, vice president of global public policy. Martin and Kaplan both worked together in the George W. Bush White House and on the 2000 Bush-Cheney campaign.
Zuckerberg will continue to protect and advance Facebook the old-fashioned way—buy everyone in Washington’s swamp! Nothing will really change. The massive amounts of cash Facebook injects into its lobbying efforts and into political campaigns, nearly 96% of which supported liberal causes, will keep flowing.
It is long past time to break up these dangerous Silicon Valley monopolies. Freedom of speech is essential for a functioning democracy. Mark Zuckerberg’s Orwellian vision of a Plutocratic “surveillance state” under the faux banner of “bringing people together” is dangerous and must be stopped now.
Mitchell Feierstein is CEO of Glacier Environmental Fund and author of Planet Ponzi: How Politicians and Bankers Stole Your Future.