Users allowed Facebook data collection

Much of the commentary regarding Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before congressional committees seemed to focus on sarcastic observations about allegedly stupid lawmakers. The implication was that the Facebook founder made them look like fools.

One wonders what it will take to disabuse us of the awe in which we hold people like Zuckerberg — the high priests of the great god Technology.

Two lawmakers, interestingly enough, both representing our area, managed to give Zuckerberg a few uncomfortable moments during his testimony before the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee. Both U.S. Reps. David McKinley, R-W.Va., and Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, are members of the panel.

Not to put words in their mouths, but it seems to me they made the same point: If your technology is so wonderful, Mr. Zuckerberg, why is it that you seem to be able to control it with precision on some things, but not others?

Zuckerberg was appearing as a result of public outrage over revelations that Facebook collects tons of personal information about its hundreds of millions of users, then sells it to other companies that sometimes use the data for political purposes.

Had I been in his hot seat on Capitol Hill, my response to questions about that would have been short: Ladies and gentlemen, both here in Washington and throughout the world, you have either known that for years or been too mentally lazy to figure it out. How on earth did you think we were making $40.6 billion a year? You merely paid the price in invasion of privacy for the privilege of — let’s be honest — using us to tell other people way more than they really wanted to know about you.

Give Johnson and McKinley credit for focusing on more important social media issues.

As we reported, McKinley wanted to know why Facebook tolerates advertising by sellers of illegal opioid drugs.

“You’re using Facebook to hurt people,” McKinley told Zuckerberg. He then asked whether Zuckerberg thought Facebook should permit illegal dealers to sell drugs online.

Give Zuckerberg credit for knowing when to answer as he did: “No.”

Within hours of McKinley pinning Zuckerberg down on the issue, the advertisements in question had been taken down, the congressman’s office reported.

Which brings up the question of why that wasn’t done long ago. Clearly, Facebook’s technicians knew how to do it. Why didn’t they?

Facebook and other social media platforms do have methods of shutting down participants whose products — or viewpoints — are not acceptable to them, however.

Johnson wanted to know why Franciscan University of Steubenville was denied use of Facebook to post an ad featuring a picture of Jesus being crucified. The university was informed the content was too violent.

Zuckerberg said he wasn’t familiar with the situation. He pledged to get back to Johnson with more information.

But the Facebook baron launched into a long explanation of his company’s effort to enforce “community standards” on users of the platform. A combination of software filters and human beings — 20,000 of them expected by the end of the year — work on “security and content review …”

Interestingly enough, a fair amount of conservative political and social commentary does not seem to meet Facebook standards.

We’ve unveiled our private lives and even how we think to the technocrats. We’ve made them our primary means of communicating with each other. We have allowed them, in fact, to tell us there are certain people with whom we are not permitted to communicate.

We did all this with open arms, not the prudent cynicism we should have exhibited.

Is it too late to place some sort of screen over the opening to Pandora’s Box? Perhaps.

Reportedly, about 9 percent of American Facebook users closed their accounts over the privacy flap. Assume the same percentage holds worldwide.

That still leaves 1.94 billion people willing to trust Facebook.

Mike Myer can be reached at mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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