Mark Zuckerberg Testifies

Photo Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Associated Press

The entire time Mark Zuckerberg testified to Congress, his company added an extra $24 billion to its market capitalization. Today alone, Facebook’s stock rose 0.8 percent according to Bloomberg data. How is this possible? How is he still winning? Any CEO facing a firing squad of house and senate representatives asking questions that would arguably plant seeds of distrust between consumers and the product sold should equal to a stock plummeting on the NYSE. And yet, Zuckerberg thrived. The committee might have been asking the questions, but the 33-year-old CEO always held the power. The two-day hearing confirmed that we are living in an age where technical innovation is moving faster than regulatory systems or civic norms. Lawmakers cannot keep up. 

Facebook is so entrenched into culture and media, so powerful, that even before the start of the two-day hearing, Senators were tweeting links to their Facebook pages. Committee members were advertising the hearing (and their association to it) on the very platform being scrutinized. 

So was this congressional hearing a twisted publicity stunt for both Facebook and senators alike? Probably.

Most of the questions posed to Zuckerberg were non-technical in nature, and had more to do with Facebook’s business operations than with privacy concerns. Take for example, when Representative Kevin Cramer (R-North Dakota) mentioned how opening a Facebook office in his state and hiring content reviewers could help with diversity. If a question related to data leaks, Cambridge Analytica, or security breaches was asked, Zuckerberg would not go into detail.

Towards the end of the hearing, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) seemed frustrated. She stated: “As CEO, you didn’t know some key facts. You didn’t know about major court cases regarding your privacy policies against your company.”

She continued: “You didn’t know what a shadow profile was. You didn’t know how many apps you need to audit. You did not know how many firms have been sold data by Dr. Kogan, other than Cambridge Analytica and Eunoia Technologies, even though you were asked that question yesterday. And yes, we were all paying attention. You don’t even know all the kinds of information Facebook is collecting from its own users. “

Zuckerberg to his credit, released an advanced copy of his testimony to media outlets and confirmed that Facebook would be willing to extend new privacy controls in Europe (as a result of the European Union’s new General Data Protection Regulation) to the rest of the world. Although, the hearing did not really clarify how or when new measures would take place. Here are the four other biggest takeaways from Zuckerberg’s two-day testimony:

Robert Mueller has Questioned Facebook Employees 

During his first day of testimony, Zuckerberg confirmed that several Facebook employees have been interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team as part of the investigation into Russia’s interference with the 2016 U.S. election. He appeared hesitant to confirm his company’s cooperation with the investigation at first, but made it clear that he has not been subpoenaed for questioning. Zuckerberg explained, “I want to be careful here because our work with the special counsel is confidential and I want to make sure that in an open session I’m not revealing something that is confidential.”

A Paid Version of Facebook Could be in the Works

Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah asked Zuckerberg if he intended to keep Facebook free. The chief executive replied, “There will always be a version of Facebook that is free,” implying that another “version” or model should never be ruled out. In fact, during an interview with “Today” co-anchor Savannah Guthrie, Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg reasoned, “We don’t have an opt-out at the highest level. That would be a paid product.”

Facebook and Opioid Drugs

Advertising drugs of any kind is against Facebook’s terms of service. And yet, Representative David McKinley of West Virginia was able to display a screenshot of a recent ad (taken the previous day) promoting an illegal online pharmacy which in turn sells opioid drugs such as Vicodin, Percocet and OxyContin. He pointed out, “Your platform is still being used to circumvent the law, and allow people to buy highly addictive drugs without a prescription… in so doing, you are hurting people.”

Artificial Intelligence is Zuckerberg’s Solution for Hate Speech 

Actually, based on his full testimony, it looks like Zuckerberg wants to use AI for everything. However, when it comes to eliminating hate speech and fake news, Zuckerberg mentioned the need for additional AI bots to flag posts without user involvement. He stated, “I am optimistic that over a five-to-10-year period we will have AI tools that can get into some of the linguistic nuances of different types of content to be more accurate, to be flagging things to our systems, but today we’re just not there on that,” Zuckerberg added: “Until we get it automated, there’s a higher error rate than I’m happy with.”