Zuckerburg’s Testimony shakes Capitol Hill



On April 10-11, Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, testified before Congress in response to concerns over the privacy and protection of user data.

His testimony followed in the wake of a scandal that exposed around 87 million Facebook users’ data to the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, which has been tied to President Trump’s 2016 campaign.  

Steve Bannon, the vice president of the firm, eventually became senior advisor to President Trump before being fired in August 2017.

According to a former Cambridge Analytica employee, the firm gained access to Facebook users’ information through researcher Aleksandr Kogan, a Russian-American working at the University of Cambridge.

Kogan developed a quiz through the Facebook app, creating a loophole that effectively collected data of not only those who took the quiz, but also friends of quiz-takers. Cambridge Analytica then sold this data despite violating Kogan’s agreement with Facebook to use collected data solely for academic purposes, not commercial. 

While this sparked controversy over whether Cambridge Analytica used this data to help get Trump elected, the bigger debate became the security of Facebook users’ data and the company’s lack of action to prevent third-party access to it. 

Facebook has faced growing concerns over whether or not it’s doing enough to protect its users as well as the platform’s involvement in Russian meddling in the presidential campaign, including the alleged targeting of users with political ads.

Since 2016, the Facebook stock has plummeted significantly as the federal government investigates the social media giant and as calls for greater oversight have prompted discussion over what responsibilities Facebook and the government have in regulating technology.

Some ideas being proposed are more disclosure on ads, mandating stricter privacy standards, holding social media platforms liable for user content, and updating guidelines on transparency. But with these proposals comes the question of how much the government can regulate social media without breaching First Amendment rights.

“From a starting point, we have to recognize [that]—particularly here in the United States—with the First Amendment, there is a real limit to what regulation, what government action can do around online content,” said Emma Llanso, director of the Center for Data & Technology’s free expression project in an interview with Vox. “There are certainly things that are illegal content, so that is more of an area where talking about regulations could make sense, but so much of what comes up in general discussion about this is out of reach of government action from the get-go.”

This is where the role of tech companies, which have more freedom to police the content of their platforms, becomes central to addressing the issue of regulation. And this may also be why Mark Zuckerberg took the blame for the misuse of data in his address to the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday saying, “we didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.”

In his testimonies Zuckerberg fielded questions from the Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees on how Facebook handles data, the platform’s role in the 2016 election and future elections, whether it has a monopoly, and the possibility of regulation. In addition to his apology, Zuckerberg promised privacy reforms and said he is open to regulation if it is done right. 

Whether or not Zuckerberg will be able to fulfill these promises, the issue of security and privacy online, as well as the role of the federal government in regulating social media platforms, is becoming more relevant and critical as we navigate a political climate largely shaped by technology. 

Grace Wallin is a sophomore English and Spanish major from Sioux Falls, S. D.   


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