Zuckerberg wants to talk about how Facebook can reform. Congress should think about how Facebook got so powerful.
The House Committee on Energy and Commerce released Mark Zuckerberg’s upcoming testimony on Monday, ahead of a Wednesday hearing to discuss the use of Facebook user data during the 2016 election cycle.
The prepared testimony largely rehashes Zuckerberg’s ongoing apology tour, which has consisted of a series of media appearances and blog posts about how Cambridge Analytica and Russian disinformation campaigns were able to leverage his platform to manipulate the 2016 election. One thing Zuckerberg does not take responsibility for, however, is swallowing the internet with his platforms, and using the power, influence, and deep pockets of Facebook to gobble up companies that threaten his social media monopoly.
As many have already pointed out, Facebook is taking nominal steps to protect user data in the aftermath of various crises that have plagued the platform. Great! But the real problem (well, another major problem) is that so much of what we do on the internet today revolves around Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, and the services that rely on Facebook as a login mechanism. Simply put: Zuckerberg shouldn’t be put in the position of “taking responsibility” for widespread interference in America’s elections, because one single company shouldn’t be so damn powerful.
Regardless of what Facebook does with consumer data, its centralized nature and sheer size are going to continue to remain problems
Zuckerberg’s testimony makes clear that he wants to discuss how he plans to reform Facebook. He talks about the specific features on Facebook that got us to this point, and the loopholes that have already been closed. If Zuckerberg can focus his hearings this week on privacy, the American people will, at best, get some small changes to the existing status quo.
Really, Zuckerberg is trying to make just enough changes so that Congress will allow him to continue Silicon Valley’s tradition of self-regulation. And even if it doesn’t, Congress has passed a plethora of laws in recent years that have sold out Americans’ privacy in favor of large corporations.
During questioning, lawmakers should instead focus on Facebook’s power and influence. Why was Facebook allowed to purchase WhatsApp and Instagram? Are we cool with Instagram kneecapping Snapchat by ripping off Stories? Why is it allowed to silo Americans’ thoughts and opinions using its powerful, black box News Feed algorithm? And why is it allowed to hold businesses hostage by forcing them to pay to reach people who have specifically said they want to see content from their pages in the News Feed?
Anyone who says they know how to fix the mess that Facebook has made is lying, but the path forward is likely to involve fostering a healthier social media and news media ecosystem. Regardless of what Facebook does with consumer data and privacy controls, its centralized nature and sheer size are going to continue to remain problems. If Zuckerberg manages to focus the conversation on how Facebook screwed up and how it can be fixed rather than how it has monopolized the internet, nothing is going to change.