Much confusion exists over why Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is being grilled by the U.S. government. Given the seriousness of other issues, such as Assad’s chemical attack on his own citizens in Syria, folks are asking, “Don’t we have more important things to discuss?” Facebook users are also questioning why anybody would care that we “liked” a cute puppy or have preferences that are conservative or liberal. The answer is that the subject is complicated and encompasses issues of privacy, safety, and democracy.
Mark Zuckerberg, a Harvard computer science student, along with some classmates, invented Facebook in 2004. Facebook is a popular social networking website service where people who join (users) can post comments, share stories and links, play games, post photos and videos, order food and more. Users have the option of going public or keeping information more private. It is estimated that worldwide there are 2.2 billion monthly active Facebook users as of December 2017. Active users are defined as those who have logged into Facebook during a 30-day period. According to statistics.com, the total Facebook audience in the United States is 214 million users, making Facebook the most popular social network in the world.
Per mashable.com, in 2017, Facebook admitted that up to 270 million fake or duplicate accounts may exist. And that’s not Facebook’s only problem. On April 10th Zuckerberg spoke before a Senate Judiciary Committee and Commerce Committee joint hearing in Washington, D.C. He fielded questions from Senators seeking answers about Facebook’s data privacy practices. This is primarily due to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Cambridge Analytica is a political consulting firm affiliated with Donald Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign. The company has been accused of utilizing Facebook data and the profiles of users to introduce fake news and influence elections. Possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election is being investigated.
Facebook users share a common vulnerability – susceptibility that their information may be shared without their knowledge and that this data can be used to influence them and possibly be used against them. So, many people were asking, “Did Facebook sell our data to Cambridge Analytica?” The answer is no. During Tuesday’s hearing, Zuckerberg clarified this common misconception. “We don’t sell data at all.” Trying to do damage control, Zuckerberg explained that Cambridge Analytica improperly accessed information by buying it from an app developer. Zuckerberg admitted failure for not protecting users and said that Facebook is getting to the bottom of Cambridge Analytica’s actions. It is believed that Cambridge Analytica got ahold of the personal data of 87 million Facebook users before trying to influence the outcome of the 2016 Presidential election. It is alleged that Russians bought about $100,000 worth of ads on Facebook.
Zuckerberg maintained his composure and explained that the U.S. government and the U.K. government, and others, are investigating the situation. He promised to do a full audit and is working to protect user information. He shared that Facebook has made changes to the platform. Zuckerberg stands by his company’s mission, to connect people and to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together. He spoke of the positive outcomes of Facebook, where people have come together via social media to raise $20 million for Hurricane Harvey relief and to promote movements such as the #Metoo campaign against sexual harassment.
During the first hearing, which lasted over five hours, Zuckerberg admitted failure for what happened with Cambridge Analytica and made apologies. He shared, “It is clear now that we didn’t take a broad view of our responsibility.” Zuckerberg said that he was told that Cambridge Analytica had deleted the user data but later learned that it was a lie. However, Zuckerberg has been criticized for failing to alert the FTC of the first breach which took place in 2015. He also neglected to notify Facebook members as it occurred.
The popular social media network is moving forward to address issues of data privacy, fake news, and hate speech. The company is developing artificial intelligence to detect hate speech. Facebook is increasing their staff to work on security and content review. They will rely on advanced software programs to combat bad content and stop fake accounts. The well-spoken CEO also shared that Facebook is doing better to prevent interference and to flag misinformation.
During a second hearing with the House Energy & Commerce Committee, lawmakers continued to seek answers. Many were disappointed when Zuckerberg would not commit to having users ‘opt in’ to all data collection. This was proposed at the first hearing by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). Zuckerberg emphasized that Facebook gives users control over data and privacy settings. When asked if he would sue Cambridge Analytica, Zuckerberg replied, “It’s something that we’re looking into.” One thing is for sure, most lawmakers agree that there needs to be greater oversight to protect user privacy on social media.