Viewpoint: The world is getting played by Facebook

Tyrone Stewart

Earlier this week, Facebook dumped more than 450 pages of worth of writing in front of the US Congress (figuratively speaking – I’m pretty sure the company just sent an email with a couple of PDF attachments). These ‘letters’ were addressed to the two Senate committees that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced off with over two gruelling days back in April. Despite these sessions each lasting five hours, Zuckerberg failed to answer a substantial number of questions and those are the questions that are answered in Facebook’s mammoth homework assignment. You know, just a standard bumper response to over 2,000 questions.

Many felt that, though Facebook had written around 40 times the amount that I wrote for my dissertation in university (it wasn’t a long one), the company once again failed to fully answer the questions that had been posed to it. Instead, Facebook opted to answer many of the questions by referring to policy that can already easily found on its social network or by referring back to the answers that Zuckerberg had already given when facing the two Senate committees. As such, the answers given acted as more of a reminder to people of how exactly Facebook is tracking them, and how shocking some of these ways are.

The constant apologies and excuses from Facebook, as well as the continued evasiveness, provide a feeling of ‘haven’t we been here before?’ because it all happens far too often at Facebook. And Zuckerberg has had to do so much apologising, excusing, and evading over the years that he’s become so well-drilled and almost robotic in the manner that he handles situations. Some may call his performances stoical at times – I, on the other hand, would probably use stronger, post-watershed words to describe his mechanical responses to questions.

Of course, Zuckerberg’s meetings two months ago came about on the back of controversies surrounding how Facebook handles user data following the Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal, while also touching on the problems that the social network has had with fake news and political interference around the globe, and addressing the idea of Facebook being regulated by the state.

These topics were also covered when the Facebook CEO faced off with members of the European parliament (MEPs) where, despite being asked tougher questions on the aforementioned issues, Zuckerberg was still able to avoid answering any of the difficult questions due to the questionable format of the hearing. Here, as Zuckerberg had done in the two Senate hearings, he promised to “follow-up” in writing with the answers that he had not provided at the time.

On top of this, there are the 39 questions that were submitted to Facebook by UK members of parliament that, according to committee investigating Facebook’s data privacy and fake news issues, the social network had failed to fully answer. And there’s also the fact that Zuckerberg has refused to face UK Parliament in person on a number of occasions.

The ease of which Facebook has managed to avoid answering the hard-hitting questions served up to the company by lawmakers across the world is extremely worrying. It shows just how little accountability and responsibility Facebook has to anybody but itself.

Lawmakers – whether in the US, UK, or the EU – need to put their foot down. Demand real answers from Facebook and threaten sanctions if they fail to provide answers that are up to standard.

Following this, it’s clear that Facebook and the rest of the social/tech industry are in need of some regulations to be placed upon them and these regulations need to be implemented sooner rather than later.

As it stands, the tech industry bubble, though being prodded slightly, is showing no signs of being burst by those with the power to change things. Action needs to be taken because it looks as though things will only continue to be the same – or even get worse – as the big boys of the tech world carry on getting away with murder.