Hoping that Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg would go to the Capitol Hill hearings in his signature gray T-shirt, I was disappointed to see him wearing a suit and tie. It would have made a statement that would have been as simple as it would have been profound – his social media empire is about people in their pajamas interacting with each other not about people wearing suits. That is why Zuckerberg’s plain T-shirt is as sublime a uniform as it can be for the CEO, and he should wear it proudly even in the halls of Congress.
The Congress people grilling Zuckerberg at times seemed like groupies, while others were like pit bulls with no teeth. All of those hours and all those questions did nothing to rattle Zuckerberg; rather, for the most part they enhanced his stature to the public and caused Facebook stock to rise.
While some of the senators and representatives earnestly showed concern about people’s private information being exposed, Zuckerberg’s responses were calm if not reassuring. I don’t know how many times that he said, “I didn’t know” as a response (it seemed like at least ten times) but it was not what people want to hear – especially the up to 87 million Facebook users whose information may have been compromised; however, Zuckerberg also said that he would “follow up with my team” at least as many times as he said that he didn’t know, if that provides any more comfort.
Many people are rightfully upset that Facebook shared data with other companies for profit, especially the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. A sense of trust that Facebook was a safe place for seeking entertainment and connecting with relatives and friends has been eroded now. Besides outrage and disappointment, some people like actor Jim Carrey are dumping their Facebook stock and deleting their accounts. Carrey also contributed a grim painting to enhance his argument.
The truth is that many people who worry about privacy online and do all the complaining sadly do nothing much about it, thinking that they can have their cake and eat it too. This cavalier attitude makes the Internet (Facebook, Twitter, Google, et al) sneer like a virtual Marie Antoinette and say, “Let them eat cake,” while rubbings its hands together and savoring the profits. Those users of these sites who sign up without reading terms of service or even caring about them until something like this happens are as much to blame as the people who run these sites.
This week saw Zuckerberg suit-up and answer questions in a voice that reminded me of the character Eddie Haskell from the TV show Leave it to Beaver. Now I am not suggesting that Zuckerberg is just like Haskell, who would be nice in front of adults and then show his true colors with other kids, but it did seem as if Zuckerberg was answering as expected only to go back to Menlo Park and start doing things his way again.
I would like to believe that Zuckerberg meant it when he said, “We didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm.” I hope that when he said, “We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. It was my mistake, and I’m sorry” that he was sincere and that was not a royal “we” but alluded to him and his team.
In the end Zuckerberg took responsibility, but what does that mean in the big picture? Will this change how Facebook operates? Can we expect all the other social media sites to do the same? Or perhaps we can expect more of the same when we are online and be prepared for it and try to use whatever privacy controls are available to protect our accounts. After all, that is what responsible people are supposed to do.
I am not quitting Facebook or other social media sites – though my inner voice says that I should – because they are a guilty pleasure. I believe that the Facebook users who watched Zuckerberg testify saw nothing that would cause them to go out and delete their accounts; however, I am not certain that they feel like Zuckerberg has their best interests at heart either.
Will Zuckerberg and his team make big changes or will the illusion of privacy online remain forever shattered? There are no easy answers at this point and certainly none that will give us peace of mind.
I am not sure what we take away from Mr. Zuckerberg going to Washington. To me it seemed like a farce, a charade that was meant to prove our elected officials are looking out for us and that Zuckerberg came to town in earnest to apologize and vow to change the way he does business. When it was all over, I felt disappointed. It seemed like Zuckerberg was saying, “Privacy online is an illusion” without saying it and that Congress was nodding its head in tacit approval, making all those hours of testimony a good deal of sound and fury that signified nothing.