TL;DR

Zuckerberg faced Congress nervously, but quickly became comfortable as Senators asked bungling questions about basic Facebook functionality. While some questions raised important points, like monopoly, there was no clear path for how (or why) to regulate social media.


Facing Congress, Zuckerberg doesn't flinch
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Yesterday, Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook faced Congress for the first time as CEO, and the pictures of the 33-year-old CEO entering the room are just so iconic that I can't get past them.

Anyway, in a session that seemed like it wouldn't end at times, Zuckerberg faced Congress' questions for hours after giving a speech in which he apologized, and pledged to do more in the future. The speech in itself was unremarkable, but the questions that followed were.

Many questions, at times, felt like Zuckerberg was performing computer support for older Senators that couldn't understand how the internet worked. It was incredibly, painfully clear that many of the older Senators struggled to understand both Facebook's business model and how advertising worked, with one asking "how do you expect to survive if you don't charge money" which caught Zuckerberg off guard, responding "well... we run ads!"

There were, however, a number of important points raised that made it clear where the government is thinking right now. 

Perhaps the most damning was that Zuckerberg couldn't easily name a Facebook competitor when prompted to do so. Senator Lindsey Graham repeatedly prompted Zuckerberg to name a competitor, who deflected the question by repeatedly asking "in which category."

There was no straight answer to the question until finally asked by the Senator¬†if he thought Facebook was "too powerful" and Zuckerberg responded with a smug "It certainly doesn‚Äôt feel like that to me‚ÄĚ which was met with laughter from the room.

Offering a paid version of Facebook was repeatedly raised by Senators, who were incredibly interested in figuring out if Zuckerberg was open to offering a way out of data collection as a business model. While Zuckerberg wouldn't outright deny it, and news outlets are gleefully reporting this fact, this is unlikely: he's only hedging to seem co-operative.

We can also, finally, put to rest the long-standing rumor that Facebook listens to your phone's microphone for advertising. It's now a part of the record that Zuckerberg has denied it, with him responding to a question about whether or not Facebook collects ambient audio from the microphone by saying a simple "no."

The remainder of the questioning mostly wandered around in circles, with Zuckerberg often answering questions by explaining how some mystical AI tools will help solve particular problems, like hate speech, and often needing to re-explain what basic fundamentals of the service do. 

Ultimately, Zuckerberg came out of this looking pretty good. Perhaps his only goof was that he ddid accidentally leave his notes open on the desk during a break, which are now all over the internet.

He was calm, collected and didn't flinch once. Like Aaron pointed out in the community, he was well rehearsed too: "He clearly realizes that this is with be reported as soundbites, so he needs to insert that at the beginning of every response to be seen as respectful regardless of which handful of soundbites anyone sees or hears."

This hearing doesn't get user trust back, but it's a step in the journey to convincing people that Facebook does sort-of care about privacy now. There's another day of questioning yet, but if anything, it was clear from today that Senators don't have any sort of idea about how to regulate Facebook, and that they'd even defer to Facebook if they needed to do so.

A final note: Facebook's tool for checking if you were affected by the Cambridge Analytica data hoard is now live. I wasn't, but many people I know were, and the frustrating part about the results is it leaves you at a dead end once you do know. 


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