New Delhi: Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, was in the hot seat on Tuesday afternoon, answering questions on the social network’s mishandling of data in the Cambridge Analytica case. Lawmakers grilled the 33-year-old on the proliferation of so-called fake news on Facebook, Russian interference during the 2016 US presidential election and censorship of conservative media.
The Guardian calls the Mark Zuckerberg testimony an “utter sham", a show that was designed to deflect and confuse, a pretence of a hearing where each senator was given less than five minutes for questions which meant that there was no room for follow-ups.
Zephyr Teachout writes a scathing piece on the testimony: “The worst moments of the hearing for us, as citizens, were when senators asked if Zuckerberg would support legislation that would regulate Facebook. I don’t care whether Zuckerberg supports Honest Ads, or privacy laws, or GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). By asking him if he would support legislation, the senators elevated him to a kind of co-equal philosopher king whose view on Facebook regulation carried special weight. It shouldn’t."
Much was made of what Zuckerberg wore. In a departure from his trademark grey T-shirt and jeans, Zuckerberg was dressed in a sombre dark suit, that seemed to reflect his contrite self. Both The Washington Postand The New York Times, among others, have focused on this sartorial detail extensively. His white shirt, navy blue suit and ink blue tie, a shade of Facebook blue, “was as much a visual statement of renunciation and respect as any verbal apology".
Many are of the view that while this may appear to be a superficial gesture, it was well thought out and optically effective, and gave the impression that Zuckerberg was not an immature and irresponsible teenager wearing a T-shirt but an adult, dressed like a corporate leader. “As a symbolic gesture it was absolutely the right message," said Alan Flusser, a New York tailor and the author of Clothes and the Man.
The 5’ 7’’ Zuckerberg looked stiff and robotic, as he sat tall on a black leather chair propped up by a 3-4 inch cushion, not sure if the extra cushion was to boost his height or comfort or add a dash of aggression. Soon social media was flooded with pictures of the booster cushion Zuckerberg was sitting on as the hearing kicked off, making him the butt of jokes.
As has been reported, the exchanges between the billionaire and lawmakers were often tense. But Zuckerberg also caused spectators to laugh when he turned down an opportunity for a break, saying he could keep answering questions for 15 more minutes.
Surrounded by his top legal and policy executives, Zuckerberg answered questions directly and without defensiveness, often reiterating the mission of the social network to better connect the world. He was vague too at times, playing for time.
Will Zuckerberg get away scot free? We don’t know. But as The Atlantic story suggests, in a confrontation of technological power with political power, the Senate could not grapple with the way Facebook works. Their knowledge of the company’s history and how it works appeared to be limited and even if some of the questions seemed probing, they couldn’t push Zuckerberg with difficult follow-ups.