Facebook has abused the trust of tens of millions of users, who have learned of the company’s negligence as a result the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Mark Zuckerberg may well have talked himself hoarse at this week’s U.S Congressional hearings, but his excuses just aren’t enough.
Despite his repeated attempts at an apology (“We didn't do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm as well”) the remorse expressed by Mark Zuckerberg during his testimony to Congress demonstrated a strange lack of credibility. We know that, since 2015, Facebook has had knowledge of Cambridge Analytica’s involvement in the scandal which involved siphoning the personal data of tens of millions of Facebook “friends” (87 million to be precise) for political manipulation purposes, specifically aiming to promote Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy and to convince remain supporters in Great Britain to back Brexit. Yet, Facebook took no action. Then, when the scandal came to light on March 17, Facebook’s CEO remained silent until March 22, before finally offering his apologies. An eternity in the digital world.
Less convincing still were his affirmations, during his two-day congressional testimony, that he was open to a form of internet regulation. The fact that he deemed this regulation “inevitable” has not prevented his company from allocating more than $1,000,000 to efforts combatting a California referendum, which would allow consumers to refuse the distribution of personal data.
Nevertheless, the Cambridge Analytica affair has contributed to increased awareness. The scandal can at least be credited with revealing the deception behind Zuckerberg’s false claims that he wanted Facebook users to have control over their own data. The incident uncovered harmful data exploitation practices, encouraging us to pull our heads out of the sand. It has also contributed to unmasking a business model which can, in some ways, be interpreted as unknowingly signing a pact with the devil: agreeing to a free service at the expense of safeguarding private data.
Social media needs to be carefully monitored. Under the guise of a technological revolution, Facebook, champion of fiscal evasion, is, at its core, a highly capitalist entity promoting consumer surveillance and control, founded on the monopolistic focus of the advertising market.
On a political level, social media is most powerful when it becomes an instrument of social and progressive mobilization. Equally, it doesn’t give a second thought to demonstrating shameless compliance towards authoritarian governments, in exchange for valuable commercial imperatives. And so, it comes as no surprise that this week, a group of 50 protesters, bloggers, and human rights defenders in Vietnam wrote an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg accusing Facebook of colluding with the Vietnamese dictatorship to block accounts judged undesirable by the government. Also, this week, several local non-profit organizations in Myanmar wrote to Zuckerberg to denounce Facebook’s negligence after the site took several days to delete hateful anti-Rohingya posts.
This all goes to show that Zuckerberg’s method of running his empire denotes a certain absence of ethical awareness.
What will the U.S Congress do in the wake of the trial? The Center for Digital Democracy, an online privacy protection organization, is hopeful that the Cambridge affair “will completely change the way in which we regulate the digital economy.”* There is certainly scope to establish legislation imposing greater transparency and increased data protection control on the current digital economy, whose regulation procedures operate only at a superficial level. However, it is difficult to share the optimism of the CDD. Facebook’s business model is, after all, in perfect harmony with the Republican ideology of deregulation. Any intervention by Congress risks being negligible.
*Editor’s note: This quote, although accurately translated, could not be sourced.