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5 most important questions at the Mark Zuckerberg Senate hearing

We’ve put together 5 top questions asked during the Mark Zuckerberg Senate hearing and explain the significance of each question or remark by the officials.

The questions asked and the answers given by Mark Zuckerberg during his hearing by the US Senate’s Commerce and Judiciary committees over 10th and 11 April have been telling. They tell you about how the average US elected official thinks, what their level of understanding is, how Facebook operates and why this hearing has raised more questions than it has answered.

The Mark Zuckerberg Senate hearing allowed Senators five minutes of questioning each on Tuesday, and Representatives four minutes each on Wednesday. In this post, we capture some interesting moments of Mark Zuckerberg’s senate hearing. Towards the end of this post, we try our own crystal-gazing to see what this hearing means for Facebook in particular and the digital age in general.

Some questions during the Mark Zuckerberg Senate hearing were impressive because of the research and understanding they were backed by, while others were eminently forgettable and made you re-think if you made the right choice when you voted last.

Zuckerberg’s answers during his US Senate’s hearing ranged from disarmingly honest to conveniently non-committal and everything in between.

Last, but not the least, it was a deeply instructional event for anyone who was interested in studying body language.

The following is arguably the most important exchange of the Zuckerberg hearing.

Remarks that show the officials wanted to be unbiased

1) Senator John Thune: Mr Zuckeberg, in many ways you and the company that you created, the story that you’ve created represents the American Dream. Many are incredibly inspired by what you’ve done. At the same time, you have an obligation and it’s up to you to ensure that that dream does not becalm a privacy nightmare for the scores of people who use Facebook.

Senator Dianne Feinstein: Mr Zuckerberg, thank you for being here. You have a real opportunity this afternoon to lead the industry and demonstrate meaningful commitment to protecting individual privacy.

Read: "Facebook can know more than you think"

Why these remarks are special

These remarks place Zuckerberg exactly where he should be in the trial: a respected, successful entrepreneur who inspires and yet fully answerable. That’s an excellent way to begin a fair probe.

They also point out how Facebook can accept where it has erred and take leadership so that its user-base can again place their trust in Facebook.

However, Facebook hasn’t declared any major initiative since the hearing and has apparently lost a great opportunity to be back in the news for all the right reasons.

The point-blank question to Mark Zuckerberg on why Facebook is a repeat offender

2) Senator Bill Nelson: Facebook has a responsibility to protect this personal information…. It’s not the first time that Facebook has mishandled its users’ information… The FTC found that Facebook’s privacy policies had deceived users in the past. But did Facebook watch over the operations?

…it seems to be part of a pattern of lax data practices by the company going back years. So, back in 2011, it was a settlement with the FTC. And, now, we discover yet another incidence where the data was failed be protected. When you discovered that Cambridge Analytica – that had fraudulently obtained all of this information, why didn’t you inform those 87 million?

… you apologized for it, but you didn’t notify them.

Why this set of questions is special

Firstly, it shows guts. It was a no-nonsense, pointed question that didn’t mince words or try to be politically correct.

Next, it clearly shows Facebook has had at least one precedent, when it comes to inefficient handling of data. That should allow the lawmakers to take a tougher stand.

Finally, it shows lawmakers have spine. No matter how big the corporate it is fighting against (Just for perspective, Facebook, founded 2004, has $40 billion in yearly revenues that is nearly two-thirds of that of Australia’s biggest company by revenue, Wesfarmers, founded 1914), the government can put its foot down and bring to book the company.

During the Mark Zuckerberg Senate hearing, Zuckerberg said that at Facebook they “demanded both the app developer and Cambridge Analytica delete [data]…they told us they did this”.

Surely a company that’s spread over multiple countries and has a headcount of over 27,000 employees needs to go way beyond merely ‘believing’ third-party entities handling sensitive data.

Question to Mark Zuckerberg on whether Facebook audits data deletion

3) Senator Charles Grassley: Have you ever required an audit to ensure the deletion of improperly transferred data? And, if so, how many times?

Why this question is special

Anyone who’s familiar with Cambridge Analytica knows the entire issue is about the promise of deleting data, a promise that wasn’t kept. There is little you can defend Facebook with when it didn’t take every single measure to ensure the data was actually deleted.

This particular question during the Mark Zuckerberg Senate hearing is significant in the light of the increasingly interconnected world where apps and platforms constantly exchange data, right from credit card companies to online retailers to social media sites.

It’s high time clear lines were drawn as regards auditing practices of deleting data, or, as the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) puts it, “the right to be forgotten”.

The Mark Zuckerberg Senate hearing: Question on what Facebook is doing about curbing hate speech

4) Senator John Thune: Can you discuss what steps that Facebook current takes when making these [legitimate political discourse vs hate speech] evaluations, the challenge that you face and any examples of where you may draw the line between what is and not hate speech?

Why this question is special

The impacts of data breach has scaled new lows with the staggering pace with which social media is growing. Earlier, the worst things that could happen with data breach was financial fraud; by no means, a minor offence, but today the impact is more deeper and wider.

Data breach, as is widely suspected, can influence elections by easily manipulating fence-sitters. Further, and perhaps more dangerous, it can make extremists out of moderates by helping spread fake news and constantly serving biased, exaggerated or entirely fictitious content.

Even Hyde Park speeches, no matter how vitriolic, give people time to revisit and reconsider what the speaker said.

Extreme content and hate speech on the social media, on the other hand, spreads very fast. This breakneck speed can potentially numb the faculty of reason in people, leading them to jump to unwarranted conclusions with dangerous results for both the individual and the society.

The distinction between hate speech and freedom of speech is often blurred, but an organization with the reach that Facebook commands most certainly warrants they pay a lot more attention to drawing lines. The question during Mark Zuckerberg Senate hearing did well to focus on this.

Questions to Zuckerberg on monopoly and self-regulation during the Mark Zuckerberg Senate hearing

5) Senator Lindsey Graham: Is there an alternative to Facebook in the private sector?… You don’t think you have a monopoly?… What do we tell our constituents, given what’s happened here, why we should let you self-regulate?

Senator John Cornyn: Do you agree now that Facebook and the other social media platforms are not neutral platforms, but bear some responsibility for the content?

Why these questions are special

In spirit, the last question encapsulates the essence of Mark Zuckerberg’s hearing with the senate. Over time, Facebook (and its contemporary social platforms) has displayed less than agreeable levels of self-regulation.

On the face of it, these platforms are neutral and non-judgmental. But that also allows means the platform can always look sideways the moment some shady remark comes up.

Senator Graham and Senator Cornyn’s questions during the Mark Zuckerberg Senate hearing are intertwined because when a company grows so large it’s a near-monopoly, it’s extremely important it become cautious and ‘bear responsibility’.

By pointing out Facebook is an informal monopoly, Senator Graham clearly shows the dangers of completely unregulated corporate behemoths.

The one question that makes you think if you voted for the right official

6) Senator Orrin G Hatch: [H]ow do you sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service?

With the kind of background the 84-year old Senator Hatch built before this question you’d think he’s onto something special. But alas, the senator was a major disappointment. He showed little to no understanding of businesses that were built after his grandson (assuming he has one) bought his first car.

This is not all that transpired during the Mark Zuckerberg Senate hearing; there’s a lot, lot more. The questions we’ve shared are the ones that we think stand out.

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