Every now and again a rumor pops up as to the potential presidential aspirations of Facebook’s 33 year-old CEO, whose net worth is estimated at around $60 billion. While it’s too early to know whether he’ll be running for president, he certainly ran a marathon of endurance this past week, appearing before a number of Senate and Congressional committees to testify about the data breaches against consumers of his social media platform, in which the personal information of at least 87 million individuals was compromised in the lead-up to the 2016 elections. The breaking of the news that third-party apps like Cambridge Analytica sold the personal information to the Trump campaign has caused many to wonder if Zuckerberg’s political aspirations were preemptively destroyed by Donald Trump. Others wonder if Zuckerberg’s time as the CEO of Facebook may be ticking down.
While we did discover that Facebook has been cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller, and while Facebook does claim to be investigating the behaviors of tens of thousands of apps, Zuckerberg seemed to be too well-versed in Senate procedural parlance—that is, the art of saying nothing through the application of particular sets of verbiage. Zuckerberg seemed to display a greater familiarity with the world of senators and congressmen than some of the politicians displayed in regards to the world of social media and Facebook.
Although many of the lawmakers in the Senate Commerce and Judiciary Committees as well as the House Committees on Commerce and Energy who did the grilling seemed to have done their research, and although many of them have storied careers as lawyers and prosecutors, it’s one thing to ask difficult questions and it’s an entirely different thing to be able to effectively follow up beyond the carefully rehearsed questions on a mostly unfamiliar topic.
I was present throughout much of the dozen or so hours of Mark Zuckerberg’s committee hearings on Capitol Hill, with a rather unobstructed view of the back of his head.
Zuckerberg seemed to be a step ahead of them all throughout the proceedings—a sign that, like Cambridge Analytica, he really did his homework. Senators, whose Facebook accounts are mostly run by staffers, seemed to be far less familiar with Zuckerberg’s work than Zuckerberg seemed to be with theirs, which in turn assured that many of the questions would be wasted on Facebook’s basic functionality.
I take you to the takeaways, and beyond…
1. Politicians Feed the Hand That Comes Back to Bite It
Members of Congress challenging Mark Zuckerberg may make for decent optics, but at some point all this becomes clouded when considering that many of the politicians manning the committees have themselves been using Facebook ads and data to help with their own respective campaigns. After all, much of the data-mining the Obama campaign engaged in is now standard for many political campaigns.
The appearance of politicians taking a tough stance against Facebook during the hearings or in speeches becomes laughably irrelevant if there’s no follow up. And there’s every reason to worry that deep digging could leave the social media practices of too many politicians vulnerable ahead of the 2018 elections.