Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared on Capitol Hill on Tuesday and Wednesday, April 10-11 to answer questions from congressman about the social media platform’s user agreement, treatment of users’ privacy and data, and censorship of conservative sources and hate speech. BYU-Hawaii students said they believe Facebook should be allowed to collect data even if it’s scary because it provides a service people opt into.
“If you are willing to put something on the internet, then you are willing to let the world know,” said Jun Liew, a sophomore from Malaysia majoring in business management, on social media privacy and personal data.
Angel Wong, a senior from China majoring in elementary education, said, “Social media doesn’t require a membership fee, so most of the social media companies’ income is from gathering our data. It’s not only Facebook who does that, but also Google, Baidu and any other websites.”
At the hearing, Zuckerberg said, “It’s clear now we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm as well. And that goes for fake news, foreign interference for election and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy. We didn’t take a broad view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake.”
Jacob Chapman, a senior from Utah majoring in anthropology, said, “The amount of data they have is extremely powerful. They could solve world hunger and world peace by connecting the right people. It is not obvious whether or not they are doing that however. What we do know is that they are making a lot of money from the data.”
Greg Walden, the House Energy and Commerce Committee chair, spoke to reporters after the hearing and said, “Facebook was the focus on today’s hearing, but the issue we dug into applied to many other companies as well. We will keep moving down this path and widen our lens to examine the entire tech industry. Determining the right balance between ad-based services and the maintenance of personal privacy will be one of the challenges of our time.”
Liew said Facebook is harvesting people’s data for what he feels is a good reason. “I feel like Facebook is doing it just to help the users have a better experience. It’s part of the improvement process. Facebook is constantly trying to improve, and the way they improve is by knowing what the users are doing with Facebook. Therefore, by harvesting our data and by seeing what we search at a specific time, [it] helps enrich our experience using Facebook.”
During the hearing, Zuckerberg explained his company model. He said, “Facebook is an idealistic and optimistic company. For most of our existence, we focused on all the good that connecting people can bring. As Facebook has grown, people everywhere have gotten a powerful new tool to stay connected to the people they love, make their voices heard, and build communities and businesses. Just recently, we’ve seen the #metoo movement and the March for Our Lives, organized, at least in part, on Facebook. After Hurricane Harvey, people raised more than $20 million for relief. And more than 70 million small businesses now use Facebook to grow and create jobs.”
Liew gets most of her news from Facebook. “I don’t really have time to get myself updated on what’s happening around the world, that’s why I rely a lot on Facebook to tell me what’s going on.”
Wong said Facebook is useful “within the school community because I see my friends’ updates on it. I also subscribed to some church official accounts, and I actually read most of the church articles and announcements on Facebook.”
“You can predict a whole swath of information based on someone’s Facebook likes,” said Chapman. “The only way to really prevent this is to not let yourself be predictive. Pay attention, be unique, and don't ever stop learning. You should develop sensible opinions and be true to yourself.”
Due to certain political reasons, social media became the scapegoat for the government, Wong opined. Several political figures tweeted about the incident, making fun of or criticizing the senators for their questions. John Lovett, former President Obama’s speechwriter, tweeted, “This hearing is embarrassing.”
Howard Daniel Pfeiffer, a former senior advisor to U.S. President Barack Obama for Strategy and Communications, tweeted, “It would be cool to see Zuckerberg [being] questioned by people who knows how Facebook works.”