Mocking Congress Won’t Make It Tech Literate
The Zuckerberg hearing highlighted Washington’s alarming ignorance of Facebook — and it’s anything but funny
Well, it’s going to be hard to regulate Facebook when politicians know less about how social media works than their grandkids do.
That was one of the biggest takeaways of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s appearance on April 10 before both the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, and Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee to discuss data privacy and Russian disinformation. And this is especially so when ignorance on the political side allows the chairman and chief executive officer of Facebook to look like a helpful and earnest young’un who just wants senior citizens to be comfortable in the oh-so-confusing and complicated digital age.
Sadly, these illustrative headlines aren’t clickbait:
- “‘Senator, I Think We Already Do’: Zuckerberg’s Interrogation Turns into Tech Support” (Vanity Fair)
- “Lawmakers seem confused about what Facebook does — and how to fix it” (Vox)
- “A Bunch of Senators Just Showed They Have No Idea How Facebook Works. They Want to Regulate It Anyway” (Reason)
Much of the conversation during the hearing was disappointing political theater, because the inquiry itself had a terrible structure. Design, in technology and procedure alike, can confer power to some and take it from others. So, what happens when you give a group of senators less than five minutes each to ask questions in the course of a single day and every reason to personally grandstand with little incentive to interrogate collaboratively and build upon one another’s concerns? Apart from outlier superstars, like California Senator Kamala Harris’s round of questioning — voilà — a preordained result with “no room for follow-ups, no chance for big discoveries and many frustratingly half-developed ideas.”
The scorecard has been well documented, and the record clearly reflects who did what and who should have done more. But what we should give further thought to are the powerful public reactions people felt while the drama unfolded and the conflicts they experienced about how to express them.