UNITED STATES—Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified for two consecutive days on Capitol Hill this week. He first testified for 5 hours before a joint session of two Senate committees on Tuesday, April 10. Wednesday’s hearing was in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
The hearings generated questions from privacy advocates and free speech protectors. Facebook was under a 2010 FTC consent decree that provides parameters on how it should handle user information, and has been mired by privacy and free speech scandals. After news broke that Cambridge Analytica gained access to users data, the CEO agreed to testify before Congress. Since the breach many Facebook users have deleted their accounts.
Facebook does collect browsing data from its users. It even collects data from people that do not have Facebook profiles or pages. Zuckerberg tried to address concerns on user privacy.
“This is the most important principle for Facebook: Every piece of content that you share on Facebook, you own and you have complete control over who sees it, and how you share it, and you can remove it at any time,” said Zuckerberg.
Zuckerberg’s statement is misleading because the site’s convoluted privacy control sections (in which Zuckerberg says users have complete control), there is a line of demarcation. While users have control over what posts users see, they don’t have control over what advertisers and apps see or how these third parties use their information.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Congressman Frank Pallone asked Zuckerberg if he would consider minimizing its data collection to “to the greatest extent possible.” Zuckerberg was evasive, stating, “Congressman, this is a complex issue that I think deserves more than a one-word answer.” The CEO is expected to follow-up.
Free-speech defenders seemed to hinge many of their questions on a conservative duo named Diamond and Silk. Comprised of sisters Lynette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, these vloggers praise President Donald Trump and conservative policies. They went viral in 2016 as outspoken African-American supporters of the president’s candidacy.Diamond and Silk do not push a violent agenda, nor are they terrorists, but their content was restricted by Facebook because it violated the site’s terms of service. Facebook has since attempted to rectify the issue.
Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn asked Zuckerberg:
“Do you subjectively manipulate your algorithms to prioritize or censor speech?” He provided a lengthy answer about how terrorist content is censored, to which Blackburn replied, “Let me tell you something right now: Diamond and Silk is not terrorism.”
Zuckerberg promised to follow up on dozens of questions that he was unable to answer in the hearings. A remedy for Facebook’s shortcomings in privacy and free speech will be far from simple. Joe Jerome, a policy analyst at the Center for Democracy & Technology said, “Based on today’s hearing, even Facebook must acknowledge they need to do much more to communicate to users how their platform works, what data they collect on Facebook and off, and how that information is used for advertising.”
“Mr. Zuckerberg argued that Facebook needs to provide controls where users are, when they’re posting photos and messaging friends, but global privacy controls have always been a challenge for Facebook—and any social media platform,” Jerome added.