America recently tuned in to Mark Zuckerberg’s hearing before Congress, a somewhat awkward endeavor that left us with more robot memes about the CEO than actual progress on internet policy. However, there were some key takeaways worth considering.
- To what extent should freedom of speech be honored?
Because Facebook is a privately owned platform, it is easy to argue that Facebook can choose what can and can’t be viewed by users. The same applies to sites like YouTube and Instagram. However, throughout history, laws have changed in response to an evolving society. It may be time for such a widely used platform to be considered a public space for the expression of ideas, as most of today’s communication relies heavily on the internet – specifically Facebook.
- Facebook’s mission is not what it once was.
Facebook, as Zuckerberg stated many times during his hearing, began in his college dorm room. In its earliest stages, the site existed for campus entertainment – viewing mutual friends, finding out about parties, and rating girls. Though everyone knows the story by now, Zuckerberg continuously points this out and fails to acknowledge the amount of influence his creation has. It is now a platform that people of all ages rely on, for purposes ranging from private messaging to operating a business, and should be treated as such.
- The Right to Privacy
Members of Congress addressed the looming concern of user privacy on Facebook. Senator Dick Durbin caught Zuckerberg off guard by asking the tech CEO if he would share the name of the hotel he was staying at the past few days. As expected, Zuckerberg was not willing to share this information. He also declined to share the names of people he messaged, or the content of said messages. Senator Durbin was quick to point out that the information Zuckerberg failed to share was extremely similar to the sensitive data dealt with rather carelessly by Facebook. In other words, if Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t want anyone knowing his whereabouts, why should everyone else have to share their information?
- Bias and Safety
How is society expected to separate real danger from people with opinions we don’t agree with? If you have liberal views and watch a liberal news station, no one will force you to watch a conservative news station. Just because you choose to watch a left or right leaning program doesn’t mean the opposing channels are “unsafe.” Senator Ted Cruz grilled Zuckerberg and asked him why two female Trump supporters by the name “Diamond and Silk” with a massive following were labeled “unsafe to the community.” As two female friends who simply give their opinion in a comedic way to the public, there is nothing unsafe about them. This labeling of users based on political stance allows for outright lying on behalf of Facebook.
- A Productive Questioning
Many of the questions posed to Mark Zuckerberg related to the use of data by Facebook, protection of privacy, and political bias. Throughout, it became clear that several senators asked questions that could be considered redundant or simply irrelevant to the hearing. While some questioned on how Facebook makes money – (to which Zuckerberg responded “Senator, we run ads”) – others asked questions that showed just how little they knew about Facebook, or tech companies in general. If policies regarding tech platforms are to be implemented, it would be in everyone’s best interest to appoint individuals with enough knowledge in the field to make productive policy decisions.