Mark Zuckerberg Leaves Washington With Bumps and Bruises, but Nothing Worse

The American attention span is short these days, and so you’re forgiven if you forgot that as recently as January people thought very seriously that Mark Zuckerberg might run for president in 2020. It wasn’t an absurd suggestion: The 33-year-old wunderkind helmed arguably the most important American company since Microsoft, in an industry whose leaders have since the days of Steve Jobs held a revered status in America as forward-thinking arbiters of the future. Zuckerberg’s well-publicized stump tour of the country’s heartland last year certainly didn’t ease the minds of skeptics.

Things change fast, especially in tech. This week, Zuckerberg arrived in Washington under starkly different circumstances to explain to a scowling tribunal of lawmakers on Capitol Hill why Facebook, a company whose user base amounts to a quarter of the world’s population, had systematically failed to protect the private information of its users and to moderate the information to which they were exposed.

Over a collective nine hours of inquisition, an alternately anxious, defensive, bored, and weather-beaten Zuckerberg — who sat on a thick cushion that made him seem taller than his 5 feet, 7 inches — attempted to convince members of Congress that Facebook was sorry for its lapses, actively working to rectify them for the future and open to new laws that would regulate social media companies. The CEO declined to say much about this last point.

Congress was unimpressed. His testimony before a joint Senate panel the day prior had been a low-kilowatt catastrophe: a demonstration, more than anything else, that lawmakers know very little about the social media platforms they hope to regulate. (At one point, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, who is 84, asked Zuckerberg how Facebook makes its money. “Senator, we run ads,” Zuckerberg replied with a mix of reverence and astonishment. A GIF from that moment is one of many memes that have since gone viral.)

Meanwhile the House watched, eager to avoid the mistakes of their colleagues in the upper chamber. On Wednesday, when they had their chance to grill the social media giant, the several dozen members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee pressed him on a loosely confederated array of topics — from the dearth of racial diversity in Facebook’s C-suite to the fact that the platform was reportedly being used to traffic Fentanyl and recruit young jihadis to ISIS.

It was occasionally crackling theater, but the conversation mostly revolved around the issues that had created the storm clouds of public outrage hanging over Zuckerberg in the first place. Last month, media outlets reported that a shady data-mining firm with links to Republican operatives known as Cambridge Analytica had acquired the personal information of approximately 87 million Americans — information that these users had unknowingly supplied by taking an innocuous personality quiz on the site. This, along with the older news that Russian actors had used Facebook pages and ads to “sow discord” ahead of the 2016 presidential election, fomented the …read more

Source:: Time – Technology


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