The Facebook In Congress Calamity - Testimony Turns Into Old People Confused About The Internet

Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before members of Congress. Many expected a thorough grilling of the social network’s founder. Instead, we got a bunch of old people who didn’t know a single thing about the internet.

Of course, given the huge Cambridge Analytica story, Congress members were quick to ask about the breaches of data, what happened and how Facebook can gain better control of their own data.

But throughout the combined 12 hours of testimony, we took quite the journey through minds of so many confused senators - grappling with the very technology they were questioning about through the use of naff jokes, ill-fitting metaphors and asinine anecdotes.

“How do you sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service?” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) asked, using his four minutes for an eye-rolling redundant question.

“Senator, we run ads,” a short but savage response to such a stupid question by the Zuck.

“Is Twitter the same as what you do?” South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham asked of Mark.

“If I’m emailing within WhatsApp … does that inform your advertisers?” Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz actually asked, followed shortly by the sound of millions of face palms the world over.

Contrary to the previous interrogators, Missouri Senator Roy Blunt did not want to waste his time - ensuring he used the time for a parental plug… “My son is dedicated to Instagram, so he’d want to be sure I mentioned him while I was here with you.”

Senator Sullivan wanted to ensure he got his dig in at China…

“From dorm room to global behemoth! Only in America right?” Sullivan asked.

“Well…” Zuckerberg pondered.

“I mean you couldn’t do this in China.”

“There are some good Chinese internet companies.”

“You’re supposed to answer yes to this question,” surrendered an exasperated Sullivan, who tried so hard to dig for an answer that screams “take that, China!” 

And, dear reader, I’ve not arrived at the worst moments yet… Lindsey Graham asked Zuckberg to compare Facebook to a Ford - eventually asking him if Facebook has a monopoly. Florida Senator Bill Nelson was concerned about receiving ads for chocolate. Missouri Representative Billy Long had clearly watched The Social Network - asking if Facemash was still up and running. And Georgia’s Buddy Carter managed to blame Facebook for film piracy, the opioid crisis and ivory sales all in one statement.

Even worse, they began perpetrating the whole “Facebook secretly listens to you” conspiracy. Now, before I start dressing this down as the sheer stupidity it is and wasting your time, you can see why Facebook is 100% not listening to your conversations in a blog I wrote a while back. But Representative Larry Buschon decided to illustrate his point about this by using his son as an example - who enjoys buying suits and then saw a Facebook ad for suits.

The hilarious part was there being no wiggle room in asking whether the company is eavesdropping on you. He just barrelled in - “If you’re not listening to us on the phone, who is? And do you have specific contracts with those companies that will provide data that is being acquired verbally?”

@chillimage summed up my thoughts on this nicely...

What am I trying to say here? To the standard internet user, such as me or you, there were so many questions to ask of Mark Zuckerberg… How many various customer loyalty databases do you tap into from what other businesses? What data beyond Facebook can you capture - i.e. is it just websites and apps is location recognition specific enough that you can predict my physical daily schedule too? Why are you such a robot when answering questions?

However, thanks to the hilarious lack of knowledge about the platform from Congress (many will say due to age, but I say more due to the amount of f*cks given by these members of Government to actually do their research about Facebook), all they got out of him was the following three points:

  • Facebook make money through ads, and they’re very good at it (surprise surprise)
  • It’s hard to keep your data actually private on the internet (well, blow me down)
  • Mark indeed started Facebook in his dormitory (… I have no words)

I can only speak as an Englishman on the matter, and can’t say I’m well versed in the expectations American citizens have for their members of Congress, but I would be disgusted at this lack of care & attention for an important issue. At the very least, they could have done their homework, but none of them did - making this week of testimony a sheer waste of my time, other tech journalists across the globe and the American people.