This week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before members of Congress, splitting his visit into two days of interrogation. Questions were expected about the Cambridge Analytica data breach scandal, if Facebook grew too large and could be considered a monopoly, and how to better regulate the platform.
Less expected were the strange and somewhat rambling moments throughout the 12 hours of testimony combined, as members of Congress grappled with the legitimately complicated technology they were questioning. Sometimes lawmakers relied on clumsy metaphors, revealing anecdotes and cheesy jokes. These are some of the strangest instances during Zuckerberg's testimony in Washington, DC.
I love chocolate
Before launching his question, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) invoked his love for chocolate. "I'm communicating with my friends on Facebook, and I indicate that I love a certain type of chocolate, and suddenly, I start receiving chocolate ads, what if I do not want to receive those commercials?"
Palantir = "Stanford Analytica"
Senator Maria Cantwell (D-IN) tried to coin a new nickname for Palantir. Cantwell told Zuckerberg that Palantir, a data analysis company founded by Peter Thiel, is sometimes referred to as "Stanford Analytica." She asked him: "Do you agree?"
"Senator, I have not heard that," he answered after a few uncomfortable seconds of silence.
Cantwell made a side reference to Cambridge Analytica, the firm that misappropriated Facebook users' data through a personality questionnaire. But the parallel between the two is vague, and the joke did not come to reality.
"Senator, we publish ads"
Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) used his minutes with Zuckerberg to determine if Facebook will always be free to use. But it was his delivery that made viewers wonder if he understood how Facebook works and generates revenue. "So, how do you maintain a business model in which users do not pay for your service?"
"Senator, we publish ads," Zuckerberg replied, before breaking into a small smile.
"I see," replied Hatch. "That's great."
The senators still adore Facebook
Several senators tried to take advantage of the opportunity to have an audience with the CEO of Facebook. "My 13-year-old son, Charlie, is dedicated to Instagram, so he'll want to be sure to mention it while I was here with you," said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO).
"I have 4,900 friends on my Facebook page, I eliminate those who hate and keep space for family members and real friends on my personal page," Senator Thom Tillis (Republican from North Carolina) told Zuckerberg. "I am a proud member of Facebook, I just received a message from my sister about this National Day of Brothers."
Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) asked Zuckerberg to bring some fiber the next time he visited rural West Virginia. He clarified that some rural areas of his state lacked good Internet connectivity. The request created an opportunity for Zuckerberg to refer to his Internet Free Basics initiative, turning the session into an unexpected marketing opportunity. On the second day of Zuckerberg's testimony, several congressmen jumped in the same car, asking the CEO to contact them to provide similar opportunities to their districts.
Why did Facebook forbid the appreciation day of Chick-fil-A?
Senator Ted Cruz (Republican from Texas) used his time to question Zuckerberg about why Facebook has a prejudice against conservatives. He noted the evidence of an article by Gizmodo in 2016: "Facebook initially closed the page of the Thanksgiving Day of Chick-Fil-A … and more recently blocked the followers of Trump, the Diamond and Silk page with 1.2 million Facebook followers after determining their content and brand were "unsafe for the community".
Many on Twitter criticized Cruz for focusing on a chicken's Facebook page instead of Cambridge Analytica or any other important topic at hand. Cruz continued to ask Zuckerberg about the possibility that Oculus founder Palmer Luckey was fired because of his political opinions. (Zuckerberg denied the lawsuit)
The conspiracy "Facebook secretly listens to you"
Members of Congress pressed Zuckerberg on the common suspicion that Facebook listens passively to its users through their phones. Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) was more direct in asking this question in a yes or no format.
Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-IN), however, chose to illustrate the example by using his son, who likes to buy suits and then saw ads for costumes online.
"If you're not listening to us on the phone, who is it, and you have specific contracts with those companies that will provide data that is acquired verbally?" Bucshon asked today.
"I understand that many of these cases you are talking about are a coincidence," Zuckerberg replied.
How did Facebook know my white male descendants who live in a large American city and have a well-paying job that would interest them in costumes? WHO IS WIRETAPPING USTc (@chillmage) April 11, 2018
How would you like it if your information was violated, Mark?
Senator Dick Durbin (Illinois Democrat) turned the tables on Zuckerberg yesterday by guiding him in an unusual line of questions. "Mr. Zuckerberg, would you be comfortable sharing with us the name of the hotel where you stayed last night?" Durbin asked Zuckerberg, causing the latter to freeze before reaching a "no."
"If you sent a message to someone this week, could you share with us the names of the people you sent a message to?" Durbin added and Zuckerberg replied, "No, I probably would not choose to do that publicly here." He brought home the reason why Facebook users are concerned about a data breach and an invasion of privacy.
Mark Zuckerberg was questioned on Tuesday about Facebook's current information, privacy and information scandals. An outstanding line of inquiry came from Senator Dick Durbin, who challenged Zuckerberg about his comfort level with his own personal information. See the exchange: pic.twitter.com/715BoUdHP4- Vox (@voxdotcom) April 11, 2018
Facemash receives a mention
Instead of focusing on Facebook, Rep. Billy Long (R-MO) stepped back in time and chose to confront Zuckerberg over Facemash, the application that the CEO created 15 years ago, before creating Facebook. "What was Facemash, and is it still working?"
"No … there was a movie about this, or he said it was about this," Zuckerberg responded today, referring to The Social Network of 2010. "It was not clear, and the claim that Facemash was somehow connected to the Facebook development, it's not, it was not like that. "
Long continued to investigate Zuckerberg in Facemash. "Is it just a coincidence? The timing was the same, right? Is it just a coincidence?" The congressman continued. "Do you put pictures of two women and decide which is the best, most attractive of the two?"
The conversation clearly bothered Zuckerberg, before Long commented that the CEO had come a long way from Facemash.