Zucker­berg tes­ti­mony tees up ur­gent ques­tions

Hawaii Tribune Herald - - COMMENTARY -

The tu­mult in Wash­ing­ton over Face­book founder and CEO Mark Zucker­berg’s two days of tes­ti­mony be­fore Congress is the best op­por­tu­nity yet for all of us to re-ex­am­ine our re­la­tion­ships with the in­ter­net gi­ants that ex­ert enor­mous in­flu­ence in our so­ci­ety.

Face­book, as well as Google and the vast num­ber of other com­pa­nies that trade free ser­vices for ac­cess to our pri­vate in­for­ma­tion, now oc­cupy a cen­tral place in too much of our daily lives.

The re­sult is that we’ve turned over enor­mous troves of in­for­ma­tion that these firms repack­age and sell to third par­ties ea­ger to in­flu­ence our pur­chases and what we think about politics, cul­ture and a va­ri­ety of other is­sues.

What should be clear now is just how easy it has been for bad ac­tors to ex­ploit Face­book and other plat­forms. And what should also be clear af­ter the hear­ings is just how lit­tle care so­cial me­dia gi­ants have taken to con­struct prod­ucts that are dif­fi­cult for bad ac­tors to ex­ploit.

Or, as Zucker­berg ad­mits, Face­book didn’t do enough to guard against down­stream con­se­quences.

“The big mis­take that we’ve made look­ing back on this is view­ing our re­spon­si­bil­ity as just build­ing tools, rather than view­ing our whole re­spon­si­bil­ity as mak­ing sure that those tools are used for good,” Zucker­berg said while an­swer­ing a ques­tion from Sen. John Cornyn of Texas.

The hear­ings raised other con­cerns be­yond pri­vacy.

As most Face­book users will at­test, the site can be ad­dic­tive. Is it dan­ger­ous for so many Amer­i­cans to use so­cial me­dia to fil­ter their news and even how they in­ter­act with so­ci­ety?

Should Face­book make it easy to iden­tify all users who post po­lit­i­cal mes­sages?

Are there lim­its that should be placed on the way au­to­mated ac­counts, or bots, in­ter­act with real users, given how they push divi­sive mes­sages to large au­di­ences?

Have Sil­i­con Val­ley gi­ants been al­lowed to too eas­ily scoop up would-be com­peti­tors — firms that might have cre­ated new busi­ness mod­els with bet­ter pri­vacy pro­tec­tions?

Can it be made eas­ier for users to down­load or even delete the data they give these firms?

Should it be eas­ier to re­scind pri­vacy per­mis­sions?

But even as the hear­ings teed up such ques­tions, it should also be clear there are a few things the rest of us need to con­front about our­selves.

It seems clear that so­cial me­dia has played a large role in coars­en­ing our po­lit­i­cal dis­course. We can blame the com­pa­nies for build­ing in­fras­truc­ture that en­cour­aged that be­hav­ior.

But within all of us is the ca­pac­ity to change the way we use these ser­vices, and to stand up for ci­vil­ity.

Were we to re­solve to do that, then the mo­ment of re­flec­tion these hear­ings have en­gen­dered will have last­ing ef­fects no mat­ter what Congress or the com­pa­nies do now.

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