Mark Zuckerberg's Hearing Is A Reminder We Need More Young People In Government

Photo: Alex Brandon/Pool/Getty Images..
A lot of serious issues were discussed during Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before Congress today. The main issue, and the reason Zuckerberg was summoned to Capitol Hill, concerned the Cambridge Analytica data breach that has consumed the news cycle for the past two weeks.
While user privacy is certainly no laughing matter, many people watching the live stream (and even Zuckerberg himself) had to chuckle at some points during the hours of questioning. That’s because it very quickly became clear that some of the politicians questioning the 33-year-old founder knew very little about how Facebook works or, for that matter, social media or the internet in general.
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Twitter erupted with quips about the olds and their prehistoric-era level of tech knowledge (with numerous mentions of VHS tapes and the Interwebs). Dad jokes aside, it was an important reminder that we need younger people in government: The average age of a U.S. senator is 63; the average age of a member of the House is not far off at 59. In the UK, the average age of a member of the House of Lords is 69 and in the House of Commons it is 51. While politicians don't need to be a tech experts, they should at least be familiar with products the majority of the country, and their constituents, are using. As today's hearing showed, it's those very tech products they may soon need to start regulating.
Ahead, three moments that made the lack of tech familiarity painfully evident.
The WhatsApp Question
The hearing often landed on Facebook's confusing terms of service, something the company has sought to rectify in recent days. In one question spinning off talk of these complicated permissions, Senator Brian Schatz asked Zuckerberg if he would see a Black Panther banner ad on Facebook if he sent an email about the movie in WhatsApp, the messaging app acquired by Facebook. The question intended to get to the heart of Facebook's data and advertising practices, but most people paid more attention to the fact that you cannot actually send an email in WhatsApp — and, it's encrypted.
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The Business Model Question
Facebook is still a free service (though Zuckerberg said some things today that implied a paid model could be forthcoming). This means the company makes money from ads, which anyone who uses Facebook knows since they see them the second they log on to their News Feed. This fact seemed to evade Senator Orrin Hatch who asked how Facebook remains free. Zuckerberg tried to suppress a laugh as he responded, "Senator, we run ads."
The Competition Question
Senator Lindsey Graham asked Zuckerberg a valid question: “Who’s your biggest competitor?”
This initiated a series of questions that eventually led to the big one: Is Facebook a monopoly? But along the way, he asked a few queries that raised eyebrows. For example, when Zuckerberg answered that original question with the usual queue of tech companies — Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Graham asked, “Do they provide the same service you provide?” He later brought Twitter into the party, asking “Is Twitter the same as what you do?” Granted, these were likely rhetorical questions.
Tomorrow, Zuckerberg will testify before a House committee. You can tune in here at 10 am, and expect to see more humorous takes on Twitter.
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