During a live hearing in Congress, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez questioned Facebook’s founder about the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the social network’s role in the spread of misinformation. Faced with back-to-back questions, Mark Zuckerberg had trouble defending himself. Public speaking expert Adrien Rivierre analyzed the scene.
Mark Zuckerberg appeared before Congress to defend Facebook’s new digital currency project, Libra. But the hours-long hearing quickly turned into a nightmare for the social network’s founder and CEO. The lawmakers in attendance sought to gauge the risks Facebook poses to democracy.
Again and again, the youngest Democratic congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, took her shots. In just five minutes, the time allowed for each elected official, she managed to put Zuckerberg in the hot seat. AOC once again demonstrated her abilities as a speaker and interrogator.
At the beginning of her statement, which was very informative, as usual, Ocasio-Cortez took a few seconds to set the scene. She took care to specify the context in which her successive questions would be asked, as well as to assess the risks to democracy that Libra could pose as she highlighted Facebook’s past actions. This short introduction also allowed her to reiterate that the social network has been the subject of several scandals, including the scandal involving Cambridge Analytica.
Although the topics discussed during these hearings are often complex and can easily seem abstract to a person who has not studied the files, AOC always tries to be as direct as possible. For example, about the possibility of carrying out misleading advertising campaigns, she asked, “Would I be able to run advertisements on Facebook targeting Republicans in primaries saying they voted for the Green New Deal?”
Faced with this realistic possibility, Zuckerberg conceded Facebook would not delete this content if it appeared online.
Through that example, AOC demonstrated that the social network does not think it is its responsibility to judge the veracity of shared information.
But even more, through this question, AOC placed herself in the situation, adding color and dimension to the issue. She knows that these images have the power to make an impression and speak directly to the people who will see them because they echo her personal experience on the social network.
On several occasions, Zuckerberg answered AOC’s questions haltingly, “I don’t know.” However, far from being satisfied, she pointed out that his short answers were unsatisfactory. By the same token, she pointed out that “I don’t know” is an unacceptable answer, for example, regarding Cambridge Analytica. “This was the largest data scandal with respect to your company that had catastrophic impacts with regard to 2016 … and you don’t know?”
As if it were an audition, Zuckerberg was in the position of the person auditioning, so he was already defensive and feeling inferior. But AOC maintained this dynamic by posing questions in rapid succession and changing them quickly. She didn’t hesitate to cut him off or emphasize his many hesitations. She held all the cards, speaking quickly and confidently. On the other hand, Zuckerberg hesitated and failed to return the volleys.
For example, at the end of one sequence in particular, the Facebook founder, most likely tired after hours of exchange, did not remember a question just asked and asked his interlocutor to repeat it, but she decided instead to ask another immediately.
With this latest hearing, AOC confirmed that she is a formidable interrogator in these short exchanges, impactful and someone who is in a de facto position of strength when it comes to asking questions. She is very prepared, aware of the format and the time allotted, and she takes care to highlight, for the general public especially, the problems related to the subjects of these otherwise low-key hearings.
Adrien Rivierre is a public speaking specialist. His latest book, “Man Is a Storyteller,” has just been published by Marabout.