The generation gap between the two seems to be prevalent.
After The New York Times reported about the data breach of more than 50 million Facebook users, the social media tech giant had since tried to control the damage. Angry of the recent scandal, many of their users jumped to Twitter and sent a hashtag into orbit, #DeleteFacebook, proclaiming how Facebook should stop their operations in similar acts of selling data. Due to this and more, in case the scandal by itself was not a large uncontrollable flame, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg gave testimony before the members of the Congress last Tuesday and Wednesday in hopes that America may understand and be clarified on what has happened and how the company plans to act to prevent such misconducts to happen again in the future. However, as the testimony proceeded, it became clear that some of the members of Congress had little to no idea whatsoever on how Facebook operates and works, and instead of researching beforehand on the topic or at least ask how the site works, asks during the testimony questions without any firm ground and basis to them.
Do note, however, that not all the members of the congress are ignorant of the technological ways of Facebook, as many of them are clearly well-informed of how the system works, or at least how the internet works. It is just mind-boggling that a hearing is conducted when not all the constituents of it have full knowledge on what they are even debating about. Mark Zuckerberg himself is not a saint in this as clearly, he has violated the privacy of millions of users.
The Facebook-Cars Analogy
During the hearing, Senator Lindsey Graham asked Zuckerberg who Facebook’s biggest competitor is, to which the CEO responded that the company has many competitors in different overlapping fields, such as Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, etc. However, Senator Graham was not convinced or did not understand what this meant and gave an analogy of a Ford car being replaced with a Chev if Ford does not meet the consumer’s standard. He then asked if Facebook had something similar, to which point it boiled down to if Facebook itself is a monopoly, and Zuckerberg replied that it “doesn’t feel like that”.
While Zuckerberg struggled to find an answer to if Facebook was a monopoly possibly due to stress and pressure, basic understanding of economics would provide an answer. The short answer is no, Facebook is not a monopoly. Instead, it is a monopolistic competition, in which different products compete but their strength comes in product differentiation, therefore Facebook has no perfect substitute because they differ from other tech products yet still compete with them in different aspects.
How Much Water is in the Ocean?
Senator Debbie Dingell is critical in understanding and acknowledging how the CEO himself does not know many things about his own company as revealed in the hearing, but she asked questions that without a doubt Zuckerberg himself could not answer immediately.
First, she asked the number of Facebook Like buttons on non-Facebook web pages, then the number of Facebook Share buttons on said web pages, as well as the number of chunks of Facebook Pixel code there are on same web pages, to which all met with the same answer: “I don’t know the answer to that off the top of my head, but we’ll get back to you.” Of course, Zuckerberg would not know the exact statistical number of the things Senator Dingell asked for. Although she supports her claim that Zuckerberg should know because he has “trackers all over the web”, it still needs a decent amount of time and dedication to locate and analyze these trackers to come up with an exact number. Zuckerberg cannot even give a rough estimation because Facebook is a growing company and as such the numbers keep on changing. While indeed it is shameful that Zuckerberg does not know many things about his own company, exact statistical information is not usually put into mind on every CEO. It’s like asking how much water is in the ocean. You would not know the answer immediately, but with the right amount of resources, dedication, and time, a team could come up with one.
Can a Bank CEO Steal People’s Money?
Senator John Kennedy’s questions directed at Zuckerberg could be answered by any internet-literate millennial out there in society. Clearly, he is the epitome of old guys not knowing how a computer works, and yet he is a member of the congress. That might be an exaggeration, but him not being knowledgeable in the topic they are debating in is a serious issue.
The senator had asked Zuckerberg questions about policies of Facebook in terms of control of privacy, such as if a user has the right to control their data on Facebook, which the obvious answer is yes. However, the big boiling point was when he asked if a person could go to Zuckerberg and ask for his (John Kennedy’s) files on Facebook. Of course, in theory and practicality, he could, but ethically that would be illegal and should never be done. This question could be answered by simple logic yet he still wasted his limited time to ask it. It is like asking if a Bank CEO could steal people’s money: yes, they could do so, but they cannot, legally and ethically speaking.
Why is This So?
On 1972, Congress had established an office of the United States Congress called the Office of Technology Assessment. Its mission was to guide the congress on assessing the appropriate measures the congress should take when encountering the field of technology. Yes, this was beneficial for the Congress especially when the members have no knowledge in the field. However, they axed the office in 1995 due to budget reallocation. In exchange, they have sacrificed their guide on such matter, and Europe stole the US’ idea of the concept, making the European Parliamentary Technology Assessment.
Why is this important to take note? One of the possible hypotheses is that the Congress is clueless about how Facebook works and operates because they have no one to guide them on the field of technology. No one instructs them and tutors them how the Internet circulates, how there are trends and how they become trending, how basic internet etiquette and knowledge is present, etc. The Congress should revive this said office for them to act swiftly and more efficiently. After all, if Facebook and other tech companies mess up consistently with the privacy invasions, then the Congress claims to do the work themselves, but how could they when they do not even understand what they are dealing with?