Before there was Facebook in America, there was Facesmash at Harvard and Mark Zuckerberg was behind both of them. There’s a lot more about this social media giant that most Americans likely never knew.
So here are five basic facts about Zuckerberg and Facebook that put into a useful and historically accurate context everything he is likely to say and be asked about when he testifies Wednesday before Congress:
1.) Facebook does what Zuckerberg decides it will do. This applies on any given issue because, as Wired’s Zeynep Tukefci reported Friday, “Zuckerberg’s decisions are final, since he controls all the voting stock in Facebook, and always will until he decides not to—it’s just the way he has structured the company.”
2.) Facebook’s estimated 2 billion users aren’t a “community.” Rather, these users are “a regime of one-sided, highly profitable surveillance, carried out on a scale that has made Facebook one of the largest companies in the world by market capitalization,” Tukefci wrote. And it is surveillance that has made Zuckerberg so wealthy that …
3.) Facebook’s chief cares a lot about his own privacy. Zuckerberg cares so much about it that, Tukefci reports, he “buys houses surrounding his and tapes over his computer’s camera to preserve his own privacy.” As for the privacy of others, one can only hope that his views have matured from those attributed to him in a 2010 Business Insider story.
4.) Facebook’s boss started his apology tour 15 years ago. More often than not, those apologies have followed revelations about how little regard the social media site has for users’ views and privacy interests.
As Tukefci explains, Zuckerberg’s first Facebook apology came in 2006 with the launch of the News Feed, the introduction of which came with little advance warning: “’This was a big mistake on our part, and I’m sorry for it,’ he wrote on Facebook’s blog. ‘We really messed this one up,’ he said. ‘We did a bad job of explaining what the new features were and an even worse job of giving you control of them.’”
There have been numerous similarly worded apologies in the years since, as well as, Tukefci reminds us, “the consent decree that the Federal Trade Commission made Facebook sign in 2011, charging that the company had deceptively promised privacy to its users and then repeatedly broken that promise—in the intervening years.”
If the preceding sounds familiar, it should because Zuckerberg’s apologies as the latest scandal has grown are eerily similar: “We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you. I’ve been working to understand exactly what happened and how to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
“The good news is that the most important actions to prevent this from happening again today we have already taken years ago. But we also made mistakes, there’s more to do, and we need to step up and do it.”
5.) Facebook is a friend of Big Government. Cambridge Analytica had to go to a third party to obtain Facebook user data, but Facebook gave it to President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, said former Obama campaign media director Carol Davidsen in a March 18, 2018, tweet: “They came to office in the days following election recruiting & were very candid that they allowed us to do things they wouldn’t have allowed someone else to do because they were on our side.”
One more thing to remember as the Facebook debate is increasingly dominated by calls from politicians on both sides of the aisle for greater government regulation of the social media. The idea of subjecting Facebook to stringent federal regulation or even nationalization as a public utility in order to protect individual privacy rights is not new.
It’s also not a good idea. As Forbes contributor Adam Thierer wrote five years ago, there are at least 10 reasons why, not the least of which is this: “You can take your pick of just about any of the alphabet soup of government agencies—IRS, TSA, FDA, SSA, NSA, CIA—and find privacy violations galore.”
But momentum is building in the nation’s capital among Democrats and Republicans to “do something” about Facebook and so it will be. The issue then will be who benefits most, Facebook, its users or Washington politicians and bureaucrats.