Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced yet another day of grilling on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, this time before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
As the blockbuster hearing reached the end, however, there was an ominous warning, particularly given Facebook’s alleged suppression of political opinions: Lawmakers may be ready to “overreact.”
The message came from Missouri GOP Rep. Billy Long, who intimated that Congress’ patience with the social media giant was relatively finite — and that could have massive repercussions for Zuckerberg’s company.
“Congress is good at two things — doing nothing and overreacting,” Rep. Long said, according to the New York Post.
“So far, we’ve done nothing on Facebook,” he said. “We’re getting ready to overreact.”
Long then brought up the case of Diamond and Silk, the two pro-Donald Trump viral stars whose Facebook reach was limited because the company “came to the conclusion that your content and your brand has been determined unsafe to the community.” At least, that’s what Facebook told the duo in an email.
“Diamond and Silk has a question for you: What is unsafe about two black women supporting Donald J. Trump?” Long said, brandishing a giant photo of the pair.
“Congressman, nothing is unsafe about that,” Zuckerberg responded, saying that the label was the result of an “enforcement error.”
Do you think Congress will “overreact” regarding Facebook?
“We don’t think about what we’re doing is censoring speech,” Zuckerberg added, noting that Facebook has tried to crack down on things like hate speech and terrorism.
Most conservatives on the Energy and Commerce Committee didn’t seem to buy that explanation, or a lot of what Zuckerberg was saying.
“Let me tell you something right now — Diamond and Silk is not terrorism,” Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican, told Zuckerberg.
Committee Chairman Greg Walden of Oregon, meanwhile, expressed concern that “while Facebook has certainly grown, I worry it has not matured.”
“I think it is time to ask whether Facebook may have moved too fast and broken too many things,” Walden said.
Zuckerberg’s testimony probably cemented however you felt about him beforehand. If you didn’t care about privacy, there was nothing the senators or representatives said that would have made you care. If you already thought Facebook’s privacy and censorship record was appalling, Zuckerberg’s predictably robotic performance certainly did nothing to allay those opinions.
Zuckerberg himself seems to have intimated he was open to regulation of the social media sector. I don’t know if he quite realizes the whirlwind that’s about to come down upon him from both sides; conservatives blame him for censoring opinions from the right and the left still believes Facebook’s blindness to Russian designs on the 2016 election cost Hillary Clinton the presidency.
He might have thought that saying Facebook is open to regulation would be perceived as an olive branch. Unfortunately for him, as Rep. Long pointed out, Congress is about to overreact in a very big way.
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