By Shammon Leo
This week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before members of Congress, splitting his visit into two days of questioning. There were expected queries regarding the Cambridge Analytica data breach scandal, about whether Facebook has grown too large and could be considered a monopoly, and how to better regulate the platform.
Less expected were the weird and somewhat rambling moments throughout the combined 12 hours of testimony, as members of Congress grappled with the legitimately complicated technology they were questioning. At times, lawmakers relied on slightly clunky metaphors, revealing anecdotes, and corny jokes. Here are some of the oddest instances during Zuckerberg’s testimony in Washington, DC.
I LOVE CHOCOLATE
Before launching into his question, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) invoked his love of chocolate. “I’m communicating with my friends on Facebook, and indicate that I love a certain kind of chocolate. And, all of a sudden, I start receiving advertisements for chocolate. What if I don’t want to receive those commercial advertisements?”
PALANTIR = “STANFORD ANALYTICA”
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-IN) tried to coin a new nickname for Palantir. Cantwell told Zuckerberg that Palantir, a data analysis company founded by Peter Thiel, is sometimes referred to as “Stanford Analytica.” She asked him, “Do you agree?”
“Senator, I have not heard that,” he replied after an awkward few seconds of silence.
Cantwell was making a sideways reference to Cambridge Analytica, the firm that misappropriated user data from Facebook through a personality quiz. But the parallel between the two is vague, and the joke didn’t quite land.
“SENATOR, WE RUN ADS”
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) used his few minutes with Zuckerberg to figure out whether Facebook will always be free to use. But it was his delivery that made viewers question whether he understood how Facebook operates and generates revenue. “So, how do you sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service?”
“Senator, we run ads,” Zuckerberg responded, before breaking into a tiny smirk.
“I see,” Hatch replied. “That’s great.”
SENATORS STILL LOVE FACEBOOK
Several senators tried to take advantage of having an audience with Facebook’s CEO. “My son Charlie, who’s 13, is dedicated to Instagram, so he’d want to be sure I mention him while I was here with you,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO).
“I’ve got 4,900 friends on my Facebook page. I delete the haters and save room for family members and true friends on my personal page,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) told Zuckerberg. “I’m a proud member of Facebook, just got a post from my sister on this being National Sibling Day.”
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) asked Zuckerberg to bring some fiber the next time he visited rural West Virginia. She clarified that some rural areas of her state lacked good internet connectivity. The request created an opening for Zuckerberg to reference his Free Basics internet initiative, turning the session into an unexpected marketing opportunity. On the second day of Zuckerberg’s testimony, several congressmen jumped on the same wagon, asking the CEO to get in touch with them to bring similar opportunities to their districts.
WHY DID FACEBOOK BAN CHICK-FIL-A APPRECIATION DAY?
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) used his time to question Zuckerberg thoroughly on why Facebook has a bias against conservatives. He noted the evidence from a Gizmodo article in 2016: “Facebook has initially shut down the Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day page… and most recently blocked Trump supporters Diamond and Silk’s page with 1.2 million Facebook followers after determining their content and brand were ‘unsafe to the community.’”
Many on Twitter lambasted Cruz for focusing on a chicken joint’s Facebook page rather than Cambridge Analytica or any other important topics at hand. Cruz went on to question Zuckerberg about the possibility that Oculus founder Palmer Luckey was fired due to his political views. (Zuckerberg denied the claim.)
THE “FACEBOOK SECRETLY LISTENS TO YOU” CONSPIRACY
Members of Congress prodded Zuckerberg on the common suspicion that Facebook passively listens to its users through their phones. Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) was more direct, asking this question in a yes or no format.
Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-IN), however, chose to illustrate the example using his son, who likes buying suits and then saw ads for suits online.
“If you’re not listening to us on the phone, who is? And do you have specific contracts with those companies that will provide data that is being acquired verbally?” Bucshon asked today.
“My understanding is that a lot of these cases that you’re talking about are a coincidence,” Zuckerberg responded.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) turned the tables on Zuckerberg yesterday by leading him on an unusual line of questioning. “Mr. Zuckerberg, would you be comfortable sharing with us the name of the hotel you stayed in last night?” Durbin asked Zuckerberg, causing the latter to freeze up before arriving on a “no.”
“If you’ve messaged anyone this week, would you share with us the names of the people you’ve messaged?” Durbin added and Zuckerberg responded, “No, I would probably not choose to do that publicly here.” It brought home the point of why Facebook users are concerned about a data breach and an invasion of privacy.
Rather than focusing on Facebook, Rep. Billy Long (R-MO) went back in time and chose to confront Zuckerberg about Facemash, the app the CEO built 15 years ago, before he created Facebook. “What was Facemash, and is it still up and running?”
“No… there was a movie about this, or it said it was about this,” Zuckerberg responded today, referring to 2010’s The Social Network. “It was of unclear truth — and the claim that Facemash was somehow connected to the development of Facebook. It isn’t. It wasn’t.”
Long continued to probe Zuckerberg on Facemash. “Just coincidental? The timing was the same, right? Just coincidental?” the congressman continued. “You put up pictures of two women and decide which one is the better, more attractive of the two?”
The conversation clearly made Zuckerberg uncomfortable, before Long commented that the CEO had come a long way since Facemash.
Mark Zuckerberg was grilled on Tuesday over Facebook's ongoing data, privacy, and information scandals.
A standout line of questioning came from Sen. Dick Durbin, who challenged Zuckerberg about his comfort level with his own personal information.
Watch the exchange: pic.twitter.com/715BoUdHP4
— Vox (@voxdotcom) April 11, 2018