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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Congress’ tech illiteracy raises larger issues


Transparency and clarity need to be demanded

In the past week, Facebook founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg testified in front of the United States Congress regarding the ongoing Cambridge Analytica data breach investigation. During his time in our nation’s Capitol, Zuckerberg faced hours of questioning which covered  Cambridge Analytica, the ethics of Facebook and the company’s level of transparency, as well as its trustworthiness.

After the questioning concluded, many went to social media to criticize  members of Congress for the lack of understanding of how Facebook and many social media sites operate and interact with one another.

However, the technological illiteracy of these senators should say less about how intelligent they are and much more about the level of difficulty involved in understanding Facebook’s Privacy Policy as well as their general operations.

Yes, when taken out of context and chopped up through strategic video editing, it is very possible to make the members of Congress seem totally dumbfounded and unintelligible. Upon reviewing the original tape, however, it is clear that the members of Congress have sound arguments and valid concerns regarding Facebook moving forward.

USA Today made note of how the internet came down on the members of Congress for their lack of understanding of Facebook with an article titled “Is Twitter Facebook? Senators Grill Mark Zuckerberg, Internet Roasts Senators.” From the looks of it, one would assume that a senator had asked Zuckerberg the question, “is Facebook Twitter?”, when in reality that did not happen.

It was a part of a crucial exchange during the testimony. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) asked Zuckerberg about who Facebook’s largest competitor is.

Zuckerberg, unable to give a clear answer, was subsequently asked if Facebook could be considered a monopoly. “It certainly doesn’t feel like that to me,” Zuckerberg responded. It seems that Graham raises a question that may perhaps need some more attention.

Facebook has had great success in differentiating themselves from other social media platforms and in doing so they have actually brought themselves to a point where there are no other competitors or alternatives in the private sector who would serve to balance and regulate their activity, especially considering Facebook’s purchase of Instagram.

Similarly, a video was recently published by “The Verge” in conjunction  with an article titled “11 weird and awkward moments from two days of Mark Zuckerberg’s Congressional hearing.” The purpose of this video is to make the members of Congress seem unprepared, incoherent and just plain laughable at several points during the hearing.

What the video and article fail to do is give legitimate, proper context to the statements made as a whole by the senators on the committee.

Evidently, those responsible for this article and video being posted do not understand how many legal proceedings carry out. The seemingly irrelevant and silly remarks made by senators in this video are actually one of two proper aspects of questioning in such matters. The senators are either preparing to use a metaphor through use of an analogy, or they are actually asking questions they quite well know the answer to in order to further prove a much larger point which pertains heavily to the case at hand.

Ironically, perhaps the one person who seemed the least knowledgeable about Facebook’s operations in general was the CEO himself.

Upon reviewing the testimony, it is evident that Zuckerberg’s go-to phrase of the hearing was: “Let me get back to you on that.” On numerous occasions over the two days, Zuckerberg promised that he or his team would follow up with Senators to help them better understand the answers to their questions or give them details that Zuckerberg did not have available at the time.

Popular videos and trends on the Internet can be extremely influential in shaping public opinion, and this is a prime example. The unfair criticism of the members of Congress would simply not exist had it not been for a select few sources shaping this false narrative. Facebook’s level of transparency is something that anyone would be rightfully concerned about.

For a group of people with an average age of 62 years, our senators have a pretty good grip on where their constituents, are being left in the dark.

In trying to understand Facebook, their business model, their methods and strategies for collecting and sharing user’s data and their plans for the future, it is truly a case where there is no dumb question and absolute clarity and transparency ought to be demanded.

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