Mark Zuckerberg off the hook?

Facebook CEO faces Senate grilling over privacy issues

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Senators' tech illiteracy exposed in Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook hearing

By Daniel J. McLaughlin

Mark Zuckerberg's Senate hearing was a rather uncomfortable affair. The Facebook CEO looked pale and awkward, squirming under the spotlight about the social media giant's privacy concerns. Not only did the billionaire look completely out of place, the hearing came from senators who were attempting to grill Zuckerberg on a subject they were clearly unfamiliar with.

Surrounded by a sea of cameras, and his Senate hearing streamed online (ironically, on his own platform, Facebook), this may not have been the natural habitat for the 33-year-old tech giant - but, to his advantage, it was not the natural habitat for the committee.

Despite looking nervous, and expecting a tough roasting before the Senate committee, Zuckerberg was largely left off the hook. The testimony showed that politicians do not understand Facebook, Beta News argues. The senators put little pressure on him, and it "allowed him to avoid addressing the extent of Facebook's data monitoring and lack of transparency over how user data is used and has been abused".

Ignorance towards how Facebook works was exposed when Senator John Kennedy asked a series of questions about measures that could be taken to improve the social media's privacy. He was told each time that Facebook already has these measures in place.

The Guardian calls the hearing an "utter scam", arguing that the grilling had failed - because it was designed to fail, and get Zuckerberg off the hook. They argue it was a "show that gave the pretense of a hearing without a real hearing", designed to deflect and confuse. Each senator, tech-savvy or otherwise, were only given less than five minutes for questions, meaning there was "no room for follow-ups, no chance for big discoveries and many frustratingly half-developed ideas". The Facebook boss was able to use this to his advantage, trying to run down the clock by concentrating on his company's mission and philosophy.

The tech-illiterate senators lacked "anything beyond a surface understanding of what Facebook actually does", according to CNN. Their first set of questions were fine, but this was likely due to them being written by staffers who had a working knowledge of the social network - and the problems inherent in it.

At times, it felt like Zuckerberg was trying to explain "the internets" to his grandparents. The softball questions from the 44 senators did not display much digital acumen, the Independent argues. They appeared to have only a vague grasp on the subject matter. "Some seemed utterly clueless, and yet that did not stop them from grandstanding," they add.

Orrin Hatch, for instance, did not understand Facebook's business model. The 84-year-old Republican from Utah asked Zuckerberg about the possibility of a paid service that would enable users to not see adverts. The Facebook boss insisted that Facebook would always have a free version. Hatch then asked the billionaire - with a net value of around $80 billion - how he could sustain a business without charging for it. "Sir, we run ads," Zuckerberg explained. "I see," replied the octogenarian Republican.

This was supposed to be an opportunity to grill Mark Zuckerberg, but the Senate hearing failed because the senators failed to do their homework - and grasp the subject matter.

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