Tech giants in Congress isn't just theater, it's *bad* theater
Today is the second day of Twitter, Facebook and Google go to Washington, and it’s not only theatre, it’s bad theatre. Bad theatre where those who aren't "deeply troubled" are "deeply disturbed."
Jessica Guynn of USA Today and Sarah Frier of Bloomberg have been my go to scribes of this bad play via Twitter.
“I am disappointed you did not send your CEOs,” Guynn Tweets Senator Angus King saying.
Well, quite. As we wrote yesterday, this is an even more pronounced “fuck you” given how much control tech founders exert over their companies… in particular Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook.
His extra-mega-super-voting-share plan was scuttled in the wake of this scandal, but he still has super-voting-shares. What Facebook knew or didn’t, what Facebook will do to stop this from happening on its platform again or won’t, is known only inside the confines of Zuckerberg’s mind, his board room-- which contains Trump “whisperer” (and Pando investor) Peter Thiel-- and private conversations he’s had with none other than Barack Obama about this exact thing happening as it was happening.
The general counsel is just a crappy actor in this bad theatre production of congressional oversight.
“How much money did you make on the legitimate ads that ran alongside the Russian propaganda?” Frier Tweets the senators asked. The companies said they didn’t have the data. They didn’t have the data! The industry who knows everything about what we think (via search), our guilty pleasures, which ex-boyfriends we stalk, and the content of our most private messages doesn’t have the data.
What they mean is they haven’t prioritized this enough to take the time to look at the data. Which isn’t a surprise, because on Monday each of them were still updating their numbers on what actually happened. Almost a full year after the election, and almost a full year after Zuckerberg scoffed at the idea that Facebook was used to impact the election.
Guess he didn’t have the data then either.
And then there was this….
From Friar: “Twitter is asked why they don’t care if Twitter users are real people. Twitter says anonymity helps people speak freely.”
Ok, now we know these companies aren’t here to level with congress. Because the real reason Twitter doesn’t care if Twitter users are real people or not is because their user numbers would tank if they required you to be an actual person.
As we detailed last week, Twitter was caught between a Scylla and Charybdis of going after abuse and bots and devastating its usage metrics in one swoop or allowing this to continue on the platform, slowly driving off actual users, and descending into sub-Reddit comment thread hell.
From Guynn: “Is a foreign influence campaign to interfere with an election a violation of your terms of service? Long silence. Then Twitter admits no”
I’d laugh if Twitter didn’t make me want to cry. Twitter: A company that absolutely refuses to consistently enforce its terms of service, admits that even this thing they are telling you they will self-police from now on…. Doesn’t actually even violate their terms of service.
From Sen. Feinstein: “You bear this responsibility. You created these platforms...you have to be the ones to do something about it. Or we will”
No you won’t. This whole bad production of “No, really we give a shit!” is ostensibly about Silicon Valley companies convincing lawmakers that they don’t have to be regulated because they can regulate themselves.
In an actual, honest exchange about this though, Google, Facebook, and Twitter would have had to do two things: Convince lawmakers they actually understood the depth of what occurred on their platforms and convince lawmakers they prioritize doing something about it.
They’ve failed at both, so far. A year after the election, the details of what occurred keep changing, and they are still shrugging when asked some questions saying they “don’t have the data.” Again: Data is these companies’ very product.
By not sending CEOs, not having this data, not appearing to treat this whole thing as a priority, by not having it as part of their terms of service not to do this, they have failed the second test: Do you really care?
If Congress was having an honest and authentic exchange, we’d be long past the “you have to do something about this or we will” point. This would have been the companies’ last chance to prove they cared, which they would have clearly failed, per my above points. Feinstein’s statement makes clear that even Democratic lawmakers are still giving them an out.
This isn’t just old, stodgy lawmakers who don’t understand how to regulate tech. This coincides with many of the major tech companies upping their lobbyist spend to record amounts. These are now some of the largest corporate lobbyists in America.
When you can’t disrupt them, join them.