Future Tense Newsletter: Congress Took on Mark Zuckerberg and Lost

100 life-sized cutouts of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sit on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol ahead of Zuckerberg's hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation and Senate Judiciary Comittees.
Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Yesterday was day one of the showdown between Congress and Mark Zuckerberg that the tech world has been waiting for. While the Senate got in a few good jabs about Zuckerberg’s tendency to prioritize his privacy over that of Facebook’s users, the tech CEO remained mostly evasive. He failed to answer some questions, such as those about Facebook’s relationship with investor Peter Thiel’s shady data collection company, and stuck to the script of “I’ll have my team get back to you” on many others. Slate’s Will Oremus breaks down the various ways Facebook’s top exec charmed, dodged, and sometimes misled his way through his first day of Hill hearings.

Today, the House is getting its turn to grill the CEO. But will the chamber get more out of Zuck (besides a metaphor about muffins)? Slate’s April Glaser shares the most pressing digital-privacy, election-integrity, and bad-behavior questions she thinks would make the hearings worthwhile, and flags the remaining question of whether Facebook still employs the researcher who siphoned data for Cambridge Analytica.

The most important question of all, however, is what Congress will do after Zuckerberg leaves Washington. For some insight, we recommend April’s explainer on how annoyance with Facebook became a bipartisan issue in Congress and Kate Klonick’s piece arguing that we the users, the citizens of a new age of private internet governance, need to put pressure on these dominant online platforms to better reflect our values too. You should also listen to the latest installment of our tech podcast, If Then, for interviews with some of the Republican and Democratic Congress members questioning the Facebook CEO this week—and be on the lookout for a bonus recap episode about the hearings on Friday.

Other things we read when we weren’t pondering which of our Facebook friends exposed our profile data to Cambridge Analytica via the “This Is Your Digital Life” app:

Election math: Are algorithms the new campaign donation? Jacob Metcalf explores how shady billionaires have been funding questionable political data ops and electioneering algorithms, and how their value may not be reflected as in-kind campaign contributions.

Wrong turn: Mark Stern explains how ride-sharing app Via’s discrimination against minority neighborhoods in Washington, D.C., vividly illustrates “how a company’s policies can disproportionately burden minorities even if the company itself harbored no explicit animus.”

A death knell for Lifeline: Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai wants to make cuts to a program that helps many low-income Americans get affordable internet.

Level up: Gamers might seem like natural recruits for the cybersecurity industry, but it would only perpetuate a lack of diversity in the growing field, writes Josephine Wolff.

The illusion of (multiple) choice: Corporations worked to convince us that personality tests are super fun. Now, tech companies are reaping the rewards.

Probably not a machine,

Tonya Riley

For Future Tense

Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University.