Mark Zuckerberg was questioned by committees of both the Senate and the House of Representatives last week. Although the Facebook CEO did his best to obfuscate and give half-answers, occasionally the truth about his platform slipped out.
Here are the facts about Facebook that the company would rather we didn’t know, which came out during the hearing:
1) Facebook can’t define “hate speech”
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) threw Zuckerberg a number of curveballs on the issue of “hate speech,” leaving the Facebook CEO unable to give a clear response. Asked to define the term, Zuckerberg could only respond: “Senator, I think that this is a really hard question and I think its one of the reasons why we struggle with it.” The best he could offer Sen. Sasse was that Facebook won’t define pro-life views as hate speech. Small reassurance.
2) “Enforcement errors” only seem to happen to conservatives
Through both days of congressional hearings, Zuckerberg was peppered with questions about the censorship of conservatives on Facebook. At one point, Zuckerberg tried to claim that it’s not just conservatives who are the subject of what he termed “enforcement errors” on Facebook. In response, Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) pointed out that he didn’t see the issue of censorship being raised by “liberal organizations, liberal candidates, or liberal policy statements.” The point was clear: if liberals are censored on Facebook as much as conservatives are, where are the complaints?
3) Even if you’ve never had a Facebook account, they still have your data
Mark Zuckerberg tried to present lawmakers with the impression that his company had stopped taking data without users’ consent. But Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) wouldn’t let him get away with it, drawing attention to the fact that Facebook collects data on users that aren’t even on the platform. Castor asked Zuckerberg two yes-or-no questions that he was forced to admit to: that Facebook collects data on non-Facebook users on every website that has a “like” or “share” button. Rep. Castor also drew attention to Facebook’s harvesting of medical data on non-users, another point Zuckerberg was forced to concede. At the end of the questioning, Rep. Castor mused that “it’s practically impossible to remain untracked in America today.”
4) Facebook keeps your data until … ???
One of Zuckerberg’s major slip-ups was when he was asked how long Facebook retains data after a user has deleted his or her account. Questioned on the issue by Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), all Zuckerberg could say was that Facebook tries “to move as quickly as possible.” He promised to follow up with more precise information.
5) Facebook is responsible for its content
Zuckerberg’s lack of legal acumen was exposed during the hearing, as he told lawmakers on a number of occasions that he believes Facebook is “responsible” for content posted on its platform. This carries Facebook away from the status of being a neutral public forum, and towards that of being a publisher, legally liable for all content posted on the platform. With over 2 billion users, Facebook would be existentially threatened by such a shift. But if the social network continues to act as a publisher, making decisions for example on what counts as “quality news,” that may be where the company ends up.