I watched a good chunk of the hearings last week between Mark Zuckerberg and the congressmen . . . or, as I like to call it, Bring Your Dad to Show & Tell. It was like watching kids asking someone’s dad about what he does. The lack of understanding and thoughtful discourse around the real issues that are in play around Cambridge Analytica’s possible misuse of their access to data was mind-boggling. I couldn’t help but marvel at the fact that millions of people voted for these lackluster minds to lead us to the land of diminished returns and government chaos. Seriously. More surprising to me, however, was the fact that being an aid to a congressperson or senator is one of the most coveted jobs in the country. Or is it? The prep work was lousy, and the questions were embarrassing. I could see the hoards of Facebook peeps, in their T-shirts and jeans, cheering wildly while watching the absurdity of it all.
“Will you support new legislation to monitor platforms like Facebook, Mr. Zuckerberg?” was asked by more than one person. I heard it asked by four in my few hours of viewing. Seriously, the only answer that could be considered sane was the one given: “I would have to know more about it.” It was like asking a shooter if he would support gun laws when the answer could mean the difference between jail time and a slap on the wrist. I don’t give an iota whether or not those who would be monitored think it’s a good idea any more than I cared what the other kids in my daughter’s high school had for a curfew.
But let’s get back to what should have been accomplished after the hours and hours . . . and hours . . . of testimony were over. I put forth my own list of questions I’d thought would be answered for those who had the opportunity to interview the elusive man, and got a ‘not like’ from those of us in the industry who expected so much more.
1. When you realized that Cambridge Analytica had mined and misused the data they had access to, who was in the initial meeting to discuss whether or not to alert Facebook users?
2. Give us the pros and cons that you recall in regard to that the discussion. (M.Z. will likely say he can’t remember.) Follow-up question: Were notes taken at these meetings, and will you have your team turn them over to us?
3. Have you or Sheryl Sandberg spoken to Cambridge Analytica’s management about what happened? When and how many times? What was discussed?
4. Facebook generates auto reports on everything that happens behind the front end of Facebook. Do you generate reports about what data has been downloaded by what apps? If the answer is yes, then the follow-up is: Will you submit a report for the last four years to us to review?
5. Can you please tell us if there is anyone else that you are aware of who has had an issue with data mining?
6. Could you provide us with the billing for Cambridge Analytica? We assume line-item listings of what they paid for will be on the statements. What income did they produce for you for the data that they accessed?
7. It is our understanding that there were Facebook employees embedded at Cambridge Analytica. What reporting did they do to management, and in what format? Can we see those reports?
8. What was the Cambridge Analytica equivalent in the Clinton campaign, and what, if anything, was done for them that mirrors what was done for Cambridge Analytica?
9. Has anyone from management spoken with the Mercers (the funders of Cambridge Analytics) about what has happened?
10. Is there any other situation similar to this one that hasn’t been exposed yet, but of which you are aware? If so, what is it?
11. When did you realize the Russians were putting up fake accounts? What was the immediate action taken?
Now, let’s talk about why these would have been the questions to ask rather than the ones they did ask.
We have a right to privacy, yes, but when I put information in a public place—Facebook is public, people—then it’s assumed I understand that I might not want naked pictures of myself out there. Jennifer Lawrence will never again store pictures of her naked self on her phone. It’s the price she pays for making the big bucks and being one of the very few among billions of cell phone owners who people want to know about. My phone? No one cares about it, but I still wouldn’t store information on it that I wouldn’t want someone else to have. Nothing terrible was exposed my friends.
What was frightening and must be cleaned up is the ability of Russia to set up fake accounts under the radar, and then to spend such large quantities to use them for manipulate people. That is what needs to be reviewed.
I have had a lot of people reach out to me to ask if I’m gong to cancel my Facebook account, or if they should cancel theirs. The answer is, “of course not.” Just know that what you put out there is not private, and ask yourself how you could have possibly thought it was. And, that you are responsible for doing enough research to make smart, fact-based judgement calls on what you believe from what you have read anywhere.
All in all, what we really should be concerned about is the fact that our lawmakers are grossly ill informed which will not end well for ensuring the social media platforms aren’t the feeding ground for the Darth Vaders of the world. We voted for them. We believed ridiculous content, because we wanted to. Facebook isn't the problem; its users are.