The Zuck Sucks: How Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony reveals glaring flaws in Facebook’s policies
This week, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress to promote his new cryptocurrency program but found himself stymied by direct and heated questions from both sides of the aisle. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez repeated laid into Mr. Zuckerberg, questioning him on numerous issues and scandals by the company; showing some members of Congress were not keen on trusting the CEO’s judgment. Rep. Maxine Waters went so far as to explicitly oppose the new cryptocurrency, saying:
“As I have examined Facebook’s various problems, I have come to the conclusion that it would be beneficial for all if Facebook concentrates on addressing its many existing deficiencies and failures before proceeding any further on the Libra project.”
The tepid testimony received numerous rebukes from lawmakers, many of whom were concerned about previous abuses and failures by the social media platform, revealing a simple reality about Facebook and its owners: they don’t care. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez questioned the young CEO on Facebook’s new advertisement policy — which would allow political figures to buy ads on the site regardless of factual accuracy — asking if she could put out ads lying about Republicans supporting the Green New Deal. While hesitant to answer at first, Mr. Zuckerberg conceded that it was probable that she would be able to do so. When questioned further on the subject, Mr. Zuckerberg, speaking in defense of the policy, said:
“Well, Congresswoman, I think lying is bad, and I think if you were to run an ad that had a lie in it, that would be bad. That’s different from it being … in our position, the right thing to do to prevent your constituents or people in an election from seeing that you had lied.”
While it is easy for some to see this as the right answer to the issue at hand, I can’t help but disagree. While free-speech is essential to the democratic process and is inherent right to all, our democracy also depends upon the rational choice of the people when they vote. Rational choice, in turn, depends upon an informed and objective populace that is aware of the issues that are affecting their lives. When major media platforms like Facebook — which 43 percent of American adults use — are the main source of information and news for many people, then the onerous for eliminating propaganda and misinformation falls upon said platform.
This is an obligation that Mr. Zuckerberg seems incapable of accepting. Just this month, he gave a speech at Georgetown University, downplaying the role of the Russian attempts to interfere in the election and defending Facebook’s position on false political ads.This isn’t surprising as Mr. Zuckerberg didn’t initially believe that the Russians significantly impact the election, going so far as to call the idea “crazy.” Regardless of his shift from that position, Zuckerberg and by extension, Facebook, has shown itself to be remarkably unable to address many of these problems. Indeed, when questioned about his knowledge about Cambridge Analytica, Zuckerberg seemed apprehensive to answer the question and couldn’t recall the exact date when he found out about the data harvesting, but then seemingly corrected himself by stating that he may have known about Cambridge Analytica as an “entity”, but not its use of data. A convenient evasion.
While it is not entirely evident that Zuckerberg knew about Cambridge Analytica’s misdeeds, he did know there were concerns about data leaks and downplayed them as evidenced by an email he wrote in 2012. This lackluster effort to buff security would eventually backfire on him when the Cambridge Analytica story broke out. The story was disastrous for Facebook and it was fined $5 billion of for its failings by the Federal Trade Commission, the largest fine the FTC has issued against a tech company. Facebook’s dealings are becoming increasingly toxic and an anti-trust investigation into the company’s use of consumer data has expanded to included forty-seven attorneys general as of Tuesday. The resulting shock from the probe brought Facebook’s stock down by 4.4 percent.
Still, Facebook is growing despite its shortcomings and that growth may matter more to Mr. Zuckerberg and his colleagues than the concerns of his critics. In the latest trading session, Facebook’s stock closed at $186. 38 in its last trading session, lagging behind the S&P 500, but also outpacing the Computer and Technology sector’s gains within the same time frame. It saw 7.95 percent increase in its year-over-year growth and its quarterly revenue was up 26.19 percent. This growth is consistent and will likely continue if no intervention by the government takes place, further incentivizing Facebook to continue with business as usual.
So long as Facebook’s numbers continues to rise, it is unlikely Facebook will make any changes in the future and unless more is done to limit its expansion, it won’t have any incentive to change its current path, regardless of who gets hurt.