“How do you sustain a business model in which customers don’t pay for your service?” ~ Senator Orrin Hatch
“Uh, Senator, we sell ads.” ~ Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
My oldest sister Tracy has been on Facebook for about a decade. She has had a personal page, a professional page for her real estate sales and listed items for sale with her sideline antiques-trash-or-treasures business. She has also contributed to various Facebook groups for her church, high senior class reunion, etc.
Tracy, 61, has some solid college experience, but no degree in computer science. In fact, she has never had a class in programming or any other computer course.
Yet, I have no doubt that my sister Tracy is more qualified to question Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg than any of the Congressional Representatives and Senators were last week.
Our elected officials left no doubt that they are not only not members of the Facebook tribe – which has grown to about two billion from 58 million in the past decade – they are clueless as to how the technology of social media works, how Cambridge Analytical came to providing some Facebook users mined information to the Trump-Pence campaign or what to do about the entire mess.
Which is why Tracy and I agree, they should do nothing at all.
But we differ on why the United States government should avoid attempting to tame the Internet and social media.
Tracy thinks the government needs to be more “hands-off” everything.
I think those senators need to get a clue as to what they are attempting to regulate before they sit down to question corporate CEOs.
I mean, come on folks.
Some of last week’s hearings were from the same vein as Abbot and Costello’s ‘Who’s on First’ routine. The apex of their incompetence came when Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, asked Zuckerberg if he and his company would be willing to assist the committee to devise rules and regulations for the future.
That’s like Congress asking BP Oil to write their own regulations after their 2010 oil spill in the Gulf Coast. But when it comes to Facebook, social media and information technology, most of us are just confused.
But at least we’re not groping in the dark and out of touch like our elected officials.
“Sure, I understand that Facebook makes its bucks from advertising,” Tracy told me in a quick phone query. “I get ads for things that interest me – antiques, real estate and so on. But I have begun pulling back some of the things I post and pulled down some of my older stuff. I’m more careful about who I follow and so on. I definitely have friends who have removed their Facebook account,” Tracy told me.
There is likely little in good government regulation coming soon to the Internet.
But Tracy says that’s OK, the government is screwing up too many things it meddles with anyway.
I think we should expect more. Of the 500-plus members of Congress, only 18 have computer science backgrounds while more than twice as many have farming and agricultural backgrounds. Four times as many have professional backgrounds in education.
The ultimate irony is that members of Congress have not exhibited an understanding of social media and it is the very thing that can be used against them in future elections.
The Internet is continuing to be the biggest engine of human progress and needs for Silicon Valley to be responsible and good government oversight to hold them accountable – as Congress does banking, energy and other sectors of the economy.
And maybe instead of voting for those representing one party or the other, we should vote for candidates who have a better understanding of the industries and issues shaping our country.