Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spent hours yesterday on Capitol Hill, before the Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committee, being grilled by Senators from both parties over how his company handles user data and sensitive issues like censorship. Zuckerberg was hit by both sides of the aisle, with Republican Sen. Ted Cruz railing against censorship of conservative views on the platform, while others, like Democratic Sen. Cory Booker chided Facebook for not being pro-active enough in removing discriminatory content and advertising from the site.
There were many notable questions yesterday, some of which were highly critical of the platform, while at the same time allowing for the good that it has brought to many people. As someone with an IT background, I found it comical at times when some of the Senators tried their best to ask thoughtful questions on the technology of Facebook but simply had no idea what they were asking or how to ask it.
CNET put together a great ten minute clip of the worthwhile highlights from Tuesday’s testimony, I recommend watching it in full to get a sense of where this issue is head, both partisanly and legislatively:
There are plenty of other highlights, such as this from the Washington Post with some different segments:
Here is the interaction with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) over whether Facebook knowingly implements a bias against conservative views on the platform:
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) caught Zuckerberg off guard by asking some pointed questions about the CEO’s own personal right to privacy:
Also, if you’re really interested, you can watch the full 5 hours of Tuesday’s testimony available from Bloomberg via YouTube.
Zuckerberg will be back on Capitol Hill today, this time appearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee where we can expect similar lines of questioning. The New York Times offers a preview of what to watch for today:
Mr. Zuckerberg, who spent weeks preparing for the hearings, admitted he had made mistakes and accepted responsibility, but that did little to mollify some senators, like Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who said Facebook needed stricter oversight.
Mr. Zuckerberg was accompanied by his top legal and policy executives and appeared well coached. He answered questions directly and without defensiveness, at times injecting a little humor into the hearing.
It remains to be seen how he will fare in front of House lawmakers, who tend to be somewhat more combative and partisan than their Senate peers. The hearing begins at 10 a.m. ET Wednesday, and lawmakers are expected to go over similar themes. But some lawmakers plan to study Mr. Zuckerberg’s remarks from Tuesday and press him on questions he did not answer completely.
Look for follow-ups on questions from Tuesday that didn’t get satisfactory answers, undoubtedly members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have done their homework overnight and will press Zuckerberg on issues where he was less forthcoming.
This entire set of hearings ties into the election process in 2018 and beyond. Facebook was a central tool for campaigns over the past ten to twelve years starting with President Obama in 2008. Congress is just now catching up with technology and there is no question that some kind of legislation will be crafted based partly on Zuckerberg’s testimony. The question will be whether we do see the end of data-driven politics, or whether it simply takes on a new form.
You can watch today’s hearing live at 10am ET at this link.