Short Take: Zuck in a Suit

Mark Zuckerberg sat alone at a table in one of the most massive Senate joint committee hearings ever, with 44 senators, nearly half the Senate, in attendance so as not to miss the opportunity to speechify for the cameras. The senators understood one thing: the internet is bigger and more powerful than they are, and there was no way they were going to pass up the opportunity to create a record about how they’re going to protect the children.

My first joke was that Zuck’s entrance into the chamber brought the average age of the room down by 58 years. Cute, if hyperbolic, right? But what wasn’t an exaggeration was that Zuck showed up wearing a blue suit, a white shirt, a lavender tie, like a normie. He dressed respectfully, which means he didn’t have the guts to wear a Def Leppard tee. What a coward.

Even worse, he behaved himself. He listened to the 44 speechify, threaten, ask insipid questions (how many Nevadans had their data breached? Are you kidding?), and he responded. No snark. No ridicule. He played it straight. It was disgusting.

The hearing should give everyone serious pause if they think that federal legislation is going to solve the serious and growing issues of technology run amok.

For one simple reason: Legislators don’t seem to understand it well enough to even ask the right questions, much less fix the problem.

The crux of Zuck’s prepared testimony was that Facebook failed, and he personally took responsibility for it. People love it when someone apologizes, and then they ooh and ahh and forgive him, with the stern warning that he should never let it happen again. Then you look down, shuffle your feet and promise it will never happen again. Then everyone hugs and drinks a cup of cocoa. That was Zuck’s plan.

Congress has a sordid history of regulating the digital world. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, enacted in 1986, has wreaked havoc in its confused inability to address today’s digital reality. Congress could have amended it, fixed it, but it hasn’t. Instead, it enacted SESTA. Meet the brain trust.

“If Facebook and other online companies will not or cannot fix these privacy invasions, then we will,” warned Sen. Bill Nelson (Fla.), the ranking Democrat on the Commerce Committee.

Nelson, 75, started out by stating his less-than-convincing digital bona fides: “From the moment we get up, we’re on those handheld . . .” and here he paused, searching for the right word and finishing up with a flourish: “. . . tablets.”

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), 85, who ran Tuesday’s show, strained over unfamiliar words as he asked Zuckerberg about “complex click-through consent pages.”

And 84-year-old Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) tried his best but continued to call the largest tech platforms “websites,” as if referring to Zappos.com. Then he teed up a question so basic about Facebook’s business model that Zuckerberg answered it in four words: “Senator, we run ads.”

But not everyone in the Senate is auditioning for that hysterically funny commercial where the old women tapes pictures to her living room wall. There was Ted Cruz who played to the lowest common denominator, right edition, about Section 230 Safe Harbor.

Unlike old men like Grassley and Hatch, Cruz knows damn well that Section 230 does not require a platform to be neutral. This is a lie being perpetrated to play to the ignorance of those who are butthurt about being on the wrong side of Zuck’s public relations campaign of being all social justice-y. And Zuck knows damn well what Section 230 provides, his feigned ignorance notwithstanding.

Not that I’m any more a fan of Facebook’s playing to the crowd by censoring “hate speech” or political positions the unwoke find unpleasant, but that has nothing to do with Section 230. Now that it’s enacted SESTA, however, the threat of stripping away the safe harbor has teeth, and Zuck knows that can’t happen or Facebook dies.

But the entire purpose of Facebook is to make money by treating its users as the product that it sells to advertisers. Anything that impedes that is going to be extraordinarily unwelcome — and thoroughly resisted — despite Zuckerberg’s insistence to the contrary.

The senators have no clue how social media works, but Zuck does. And he knows how they work, so he tolerated their inane speeches because the last thing he wants is to let these geriatric monkeys try their hand at regulating his money machine. No matter how much we hate Facebook, we shouldn’t want them to touch it either. They don’t have a clue.

23 thoughts on “Short Take: Zuck in a Suit

  1. PseudonymousKid

    Dear Papa,

    Count me triggered. The facebook prince and 44 senators in the same room is a horrendous image, and yet you link video to the travesty. We all gobble up the marketing. I’d call them and us swine when the swill is poured out, but I have a newfound appreciation for animals.

    The prince is a proper aristocrat, nowadays. He’s spent too much time with the sniveling corporate types, but it’s paid off with the high gloss performance. Except he’s the 800 lb. gorilla in the room of wimps, senators or no. Good money says facebook is safe from interference regardless of what anyone actually wants. Or is it bad money?

    Any new bill regulating social media will have facebook’s hand directly in it. It would have to. Like you say, the senators don’t know shit. The ACA was brought to us in large part by insurance companies, after all.

    Best,
    PK

    1. SHG Post author

      On the bright side, in private the senators swallow. Zuck and his lobbyists make th occasional campaign contribution.

  2. Charles

    I loved Senator Chris Murphy’s observation: “Americans’ information could be easily collected Facebook without their knowledge, and used for malevolent purposes.”

    Oh, wait. This wasn’t yesterday. It was in January. And he wasn’t concerned about Facebook. He was concerned about “the government” collecting and storing American data as “incidental” to collection under FISA.

    [Ed. Note: Deleted, per rules.]

    Who was the sponsor of S.139? Hatch. Who was one of the 12 co-sponsors (7 Republican, 5 Democrat)? Cruz. And then it passed 65-34. Yet 44 of those Senators showed up yesterday to pretend to care about privacy.

    [Ed. Note: This too.]

  3. B. McLeod

    Ah, cocoa! I tried to get some at Costco a few weeks ago, but they advised me that it was considered “seasonal,” and they were out. It wouldn’t surprise me if the senators turn out to have some squirreled away, but I’m not sure I want it bad enough to attend one of their hearings.

  4. Matthew S Wideman

    The problem with Facebook is it’s free and the rest of the world is not free. Facebook has to pimp out it’s users data to make it free. I don’t know how that is going to be changed by the magic of our great legislative branch.

    All of the pundits and legislators have seem to forgotten that since the beginning of Facebook every person with a brain determined that Facebook is selling your info. In college, in grad school, and law school there was a professor who gave a lecture about the dangers of Facebook and Social Media.

    1. SHG Post author

      Oddly, no prof ever informed us in college, etc., about the dangers of social media. But your paradigm may be off. Users are not the customers, but the product being sold to advertisers. It’s not free. It costs user their privacy, a price users are happy to pay.

    2. Charles

      Yes, but most people assume that the info being used is whatever specific information they filled out in their profile. What they don’t understand is that Facebook really is selling is a “shadow profile” that they can’t control and can’t delete.

        1. Charles

          They would freak out for a moment. And tell all of their friends.

          By posting it on Facebook. Oh, look, another cat picture.

  5. Matthew S Wideman

    The complaints are nothing new. I went to college during the explosion of Facebook. So it was on the collective minds of every person at my small liberal arts college. The school put on a mini symposium about Facebook and it’s dangers and potential issues. My graduate school did and law school did the same thing, but those symposiums were based upon how Facebook posts can affect potential job opportunities.

    In my jaded point of view. People seem happy to give up their right to privacy. I don’t think all the fear mongering is going to stop parts of my generation and the two below me from placing their entire lives on a social media platform. On a positive note, Facebook makes cross examining opposing parties in family law cases easier.

  6. Dan Quigley

    IMO Congress is completely oblivious to the breadth and depth of data privacy issues. It’s not just Facebook. Have you looked the data “identity aggregation” services (like Spokeo, Intelius, and Cubib, etc.) have on you? I have, and am shocked at the inaccuracy. Maybe that’s a good thing, but I have absolutely no idea who uses that data or what its being used for. I do know that for under a dollar, anyone can access what they have on me. So though not as important as my credit information, as a consumer I now feel a need to monitor what data brokers have on myself and family. At least with Facebook, I have some control over what is shared with whom.

    Is there really no national legislation on how data that meets the NIST definition of PII is stored and used since the 1974 Privacy Act?

    1. SHG Post author

      I’ve looked as well, and it’s exceptionally inaccurate (occasionally hysterically inaccurate as well). Then again, given the ineffectual means available for correcting erroneous credit reporting (or any number of other inaccuracies), what are the chances of a remedy that will actually work? Heck, how is the Do Not Call Registry working for you?

      1. Jyjon

        By correcting the innacuracies, you do realize you’re helping them consolidate their data on you. You’re in effect acting as an employee helping them gather the data. I personally would prefer to help them change it so my data is much more interesting and bizarre so that maybe others will think I’m something I’m not. you know, like offer me free stuff cause they think lots of people give a shit about my oppinion n such.

  7. ShallMustMay

    I thought his response to making mistakes was victimiy. I started in a dorm and look at me today. Really? That’s you’re excuse? Ivy to billions. We are all certified victims now.

  8. Dan Quigley

    A fair point. I didn’t address my actions in my post, and I probably should have. I don’t know the policies of the other services, but Spokeo will not allow corrections. In my case, they promised to delete all the phone number and email data (which was grossly incorrect). Interestingly, they didn’t bother to verify my identity. I have no idea of or any control over who uses this data, what for and why.

    1. SHG Post author

      I get this odd sense that you’re replying to something, and yet this starts a completely new thread. Go figure.

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