Z on TV Critic David Zurawik writes about the business and culture of TV

Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg says he's open to government regulation. So what are we waiting for?

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Wednesday night on CNN that he is open to government regulation.

So, what are waiting for? Let’s do it. Let’s regulate Facebook and the other giant platforms that have come to be so incredibly influential in shaping the conversation of American democracy for the worse.

Come on, Congress. Prove you can actually do something besides lower taxes for rich people. Or, are you folks even more frightened of the big tech lobby than you are the NRA? Put Zuckerberg’s words to the test, regulate him and protect our democracy.

While Zuckerberg sounded like he was saying some of the right things in the CNN interview — in which he addressed Facebook’s privacy scandal involving data firm Cambridge Analytica — his record on matters of social responsibility and stewardship of personal data contributed by members of his Facebook community is dismal. He defines disingenuous in my book. I’m sick of hearing how hard it is for him to do interviews. I guarantee you if he told the truth more often, it would be a lot easier.

In October, I called for regulation of all the giant social media platforms.

“Zuckerberg and the other tech wunderkinds and wizards of Silicon Valley were given all the regulation-free rope in the world as they promised a new kind of media environment that was neutral, open, global and free,” I wrote. “But Zuckerberg, at least, hung himself with it when he accepted ads from Russia in 2015 and ’16 and published them at key moments of urban strife and presidential politics without telling Facebook users where the ads were from.”

Such regulation isn’t a radical idea in the least, but the same standards most legacy media have operated under since Congress passed the Communications Act of 1934. In that October piece, I explained that it was long past time for platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google to be regulated in the same way that network TV and radio are.

And now comes the news that Facebook allowed the personal data of as many as 50 million of its users to be harvested by researchers and sold to companies like Cambridge Analytica, which used that personal information to help Donald Trump in the 2016 election.

Steve Bannon, who went on to become a senior adviser to Trump, oversaw the harvesting of the data at Cambridge Analytica, which was paid for by billionaire Trump supporter Robert Mercer, according to news reports.

Zuckerberg got some headlines Wednesday for a statement he made on Facebook saying, “We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can't then we don't deserve to serve you.”

It came after five days of him being missing in action as the news of Cambridge Analytica tore through social media. And it sounds righteous.

Except in the interview Wednesday night on CNN, he made it sound as if Facebook was as much a victim of bad actors as its users whose privacy was violated.

His argument: Facebook let Aleksandr Kogan, an academic researcher, harvest personal data through an app he created as a personality test for users. Kogan, Zuckerberg claims, then sold the data to Cambridge Analytica, which was in violation of the social media platform’s agreement with the researcher.

Once Facebook found out about the sale in 2015, Zuckerberg says, the social media “banned” Kogan’s app.

He promised Facebook would be more diligent in the future and was doing a “full forensic audit” of similar apps.

But he had no credible explanation as to why Facebook did not tell users in 2015 that their data had been breached.

The message of virtually everything Zuckerberg said Wednesday night in the interview: We we’re victims, too. We were deceived. These developers lied to us. But we will not be so trusting in the future, and we will do better. Trust us.

He said Facebook was doing doing “full forensic audits” of apps similar to Kogan’s to make it sound like Facebook was taking vigorous and serious action in what he called “this moment of crisis.”

It was all one big ball of damage control. Let’s not fall for his rhetoric again.

Remember, this is the guy who said in November 2016, that it was “crazy” to think ads and fake news on Facebook affected the election in any significant way — even as intelligence officials were on cable TV saying that is exactly what they believed had happened.

In the interview, Zuckerberg said Facebook is open to the kind of disclaimer notices and statements of who paid for political ads that the Federal Election Commission demands. But in 2011, Facebook went to the commission and sought a waiver of that very requirement after one was granted to Twitter.

That’s what I mean about disingenuous.

On regulation, he said Wednesday, “I’m actually not sure we shouldn’t be regulated.”

That’s sure to get some headlines. But every other word out of his mouth was intended to make the case that Facebook didn’t need regulation. I’ll bet his lobbyists aren’t telling members of Congress maybe Facebook should be regulated.

Zuckerberg also said in the interview he is now willing to come before Congress and testify, something I believe we badly need as a nation if only for catharsis.

But even there he was disingenuous — or maybe slippery is a better word.

“Will you testify before Congress?” he was asked point blank by CNN senior tech correspondent Laurie Segall.

“So, the short answer is I’m happy to, if it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

And who will decide if it is the right thing to do?

Who else, but this guy who has proven himself so worthy of our trust in the past.

I say subpoena Zuckerberg to testify. And then, set the wheels in motion to regulate his platform and others so that we are never as vulnerable to being exploited by foreign powers as we were in 2016.

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

twitter.com/davidzurawik

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