In a five-hour testimony before the US Senate on Tuesday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was grilled on a range of issues that has kept the social media giant in the news over the past few weeks.
While Zuckerberg was calm and collected through the ordeal, few of the 44 senators who had gathered to grill him got right to the point, putting him in a spot. Here are a few moments from Zuckerberg’s testimony.
Where were you last night?
In order to make a point about user privacy concerns, Senator Dick Durbin from Illinois asked Zuckerberg, “Would you be comfortable sharing with us the name of the hotel you stayed in last night?”
Caught off-guard, Zuckerberg smiled and after a confused pause, said, “Umm, no.”
Even as the hall erupted into laughter, Senator Durbin followed up with, “If you messaged anybody this week, would you share with us the names of the people you’ve messaged?”
“Senator, no, I would probably not choose to do that publicly here,” Zuckerberg replied.
The Senator then said, “I think that might be what this is all about: your right to privacy, the limits of your right to privacy, and how much you’d give away in modern America.”
Following the massive scandal over Facebook’s involvement in the 2016 US elections and its failure to act on hate speech, the social media company had promised to examine its role in influencing elections. However, when Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse asked Zuckerberg to define hate speech, the CEO found that it was a “really hard question.”
In response to an earlier question, Zuckerberg had said that AI tools will be built to “get into the linguistic nuances of different types of content to be more accurate in flagging things for our systems.”
While having human speech policed by AI was concerning in itself, people were quick to point the irony of a Zuckerberg not being able to define hate speech when he planned to get artificial intelligence to do it.
The Harvard dorm room
In what was perhaps a rehearsed attempt to remind the world of the ‘humble beginnings’ of Facebook, Zuckerberg repeatedly referred to starting the company from his dorm room at Harvard University where he studied. But social media was clearly tired of this narrative.
does anyone know what sort of room mark zuckerberg was in when he built facebook— Farhad Manjoo: senator, we run ads (@fmanjoo) April 10, 2018
Who among us can honestly say we did not make a mistake in a dorm room— Emily Nussbaum (@emilynussbaum) April 10, 2018
Zuckerberg keeps acting like Facebook is some kind of "new" company, created in a dorm room. That was 14 years ago. In 2017, it was valued at over $500 billion. This idea that Facebook is not a MAJOR corporation, which is why they messed up, is a farce— Domenico Montanaro (@DomenicoNPR) April 10, 2018
"Senator, when I started Facebook in my dorm room, my main goal was to figure out if my classmates were hot or not. Today I realize that question is likely unanswerable. That's been a huge philosophical shift for us."— ishmael n. daro (@iD4RO) April 10, 2018
In a tongue-in-cheek reference before he asked his question, Michigan Senator Gary Peters said, “You talked about your very humble beginnings, of starting Facebook in your dorm room and I appreciated you telling that story.”
‘User agreement sucks’
Louisiana Senator John Kennedy got right to the point, telling Zuckerberg: “Here’s what everyone’s been trying to tell you today and I say it gently… your user agreement sucks. The purpose of a user agreement is to cover Facebook’s rear end, not inform users of their rights.”
While most of the measures that the Senator listed to rectify deleting personal data have already been enacted by Facebook, in order to drive home the point, the Senator added, “I'm going to suggest you go home and rewrite it, and tell your $1,200 an hour lawyer you want it written in English not Swahili, so the average American user can understand.”
However, it was not just Zuckerberg who was panned for his testimony. The Senators, whose responsibility it was to demand answers for data abuse of millions of users and for influencing elections across the globe, appeared unprepared to hold Zuckerberg accountable.
Republican Senator Orin Hatch asked, “How do you sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service?” To which Zuckerberg simply replied, “Senator, we run ads.”
Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz embarrassed himself by repeatedly asking if his “emails” sent via the encrypted WhatsApp platform can be seen by Facebook.