Facebook is in trouble. No, not because of the contrived Cambridge Analytica scandal, pushed forward by Democrats still trying to blame some nefarious online operation for the election of President Donald Trump. The social media site is in trouble because we’re letting Congress think they can regulate a private company. If they get their hands on Facebook, it will have a chilling effect on business in this country. Not to mention, it’s a startling bit of over-reach.
If you watched Tuesday’s Facebook grilling by a bunch of senators whose only experience with Facebook is a 22-year-old staffer explaining they just wrote a post in their name, you probably noticed they strayed considerably from anything having to do with Cambridge Analytica, and got into lecturing CEO Mark Zuckerberg about how Facebook should be run. These senators can’t get the government to run efficiently, too frequently shut the government down (or nearly avert shutdown), and constantly bicker. But they’re the ones Zuckerberg should listen to?
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) asked Zuckerberg what Facebook is doing to stop foreign actors from influencing our elections. He gave a statement he prepared for, seeing that question a mile away, but since when is it a private company’s duty stop foreign actors from engaging in speech on a public platform? Facebook is an international company. Are they supposed to identify foreign actors from commenting on US elections via Facebook? If, say, a Russian or Brit wanted their American friends to vote Trump, are they supposed to be denied that? Or are they not “foreign actors?” What does that even mean? Spies? Is Facebook supposed to act like the CIA? Perhaps so. But something tells me that might involve Facebook taking a deeper dive into our online activities which would just lead to more accusations of them violating our privacy from the very government body complaining Facebook doesn’t do enough to stop foreign interference with our election. If it’s illegal acts interfering with our elections, I sure as hell hope the onus isn’t on Facebook, but on law enforcement, to get involved.
Senator John Kennedy (R- LA) told Zuckerberg that the Facebook “user agreement sucks.” Oh yeah? Then don’t sign up for Facebook. You have Twitter, Instagram, and even MySpace still. Senator, you sign onto bills you haven’t read. That’s what sucks. Following that line of criticism, Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) complained that “people really have no earthly idea what they are signing up for…” Perhaps that’s true but that’s on the user, not the Senate. I don’t need Schatz to fight for me. I’m an adult and can read user agreements myself. Much like almost everyone else who uses Facebook, I’ve chosen not to read the agreement and blindly sign up because it’s a free service and just don’t care. No one does. We’re told we should, some of us claim externally we do, but we truly don’t. It’s why we’re still on Facebook. We will suffer the consequences, if there truly are any, and that’s on us. I don’t need your help, Schatz.
Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) wanted to know if Facebook tracked users after they logged off Facebook, though it’s unclear if he meant actually log off (which almost no one does) or simply close the Facebook app or browser tab. Apparently, Wicker doesn’t understand what cookies are. Perhaps his intern can explain. Nevertheless, that’s not the business of the Senate.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) hammered Zuckerberg on whether or not the site is censoring conservative content. I agree that I find the act disconcerting but, again, I’m not sure that’s in the purview of the Senate. This wasn’t about calling Zuckerberg out, it was about pressuring him, using the might of the federal government, to change the behavior. As much as I want that behavior to change, the government should have no say in this. It’s a private company and the consumer should make the ultimate decision as to whether or not they want to stay with the service or use their pressure, as users, to get Facebook to change.
This whole session was about trying to pressure — and, in some cases, bully — a private business owner to run his site the way Senators want it run. That seems chilling. Locally, Seattle is trying to destroy Uber and Lyft by setting rates on their behalf. That is outrageous. I don’t want the federal government telling us how we’re supposed to run our day to day operations outside of the authority they currently have to enforce laws on the books. Do you?