BOB GARFIELD: From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media. Brooke Gladstone is in the building but busy on some other damn thing. I’m Bob Garfield.
SEN. CHARLES E. GRASSLEY: The Committees on the Judiciary and Commerce will come to order. We welcome everyone to today's hearing on Facebook's social media privacy and the use and abuse of data.
BOB GARFIELD: This week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg finally appeared before not one but two congressional committees to answer for privacy invasion, fake news, murderous hate speech, ISIS propaganda, censorship and -- tell me again, what’s a “poke”? And as a supercut assembling by the Open Market Institute demonstrates, Zuckerberg was exactly as forthcoming as expected.
MARK ZUCKERBERG: I'm not specifically aware. I mean, I, I’m, I’m not, I’m not sure.
ZUCKERBERG: No, I do not.
ZUCKERBERG: I’m not sure what that means.
ZUCKERBERG: I, I’m not sure --
ZUCKERBERG: I do not have that information.
ZUCKERBERG: Congressman, I’m not familiar --
ZUCKERBERG: I’m not actually sure what that is referring to.
ZUCKERBERG: I’m not sure either.
ZUCKERBERG: Senator, I’m not sure if we need a law but I think that this is certainly a thing that deserves --
BOB GARFIELD: Yet, the ultimate truth did come out, in the answer to a phenomenally naïve question 84-year-old Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah.
SENATOR ORRIN HATCH: How do you sustain a business model in which users don't pay for your service?
ZUCKERBERG: Senator, we run ads.
BOB GARFIELD: Yes, Senator, they run ads and target them with the biggest trove of user data amassed in human history and, therefore, are very good at that and, therefore, along with Google, have utter domination of the online ad industry, which is half of the global ad economy, and growing. Though there are tens of thousands of publishers, Google and Facebook suck up 60% of every dollar spent online and almost 100% of every dollar of ad market growth.
Orrin Hatch’s Republican colleague Lindsey Graham was close to understanding the implications.
LINDSEY GRAHAM: If I buy a Ford and it doesn't work well and I don't like it, I can buy a Chevy. If I'm upset with Facebook, what's the equivalent product that I can go sign up for?
ZUCKERBERG: Well, there — the second category that I was going to talk about are s --
LINDSEY GRAHAM: I'm not talking about categories. I'm talking about, is there real competition you face? Because car companies face a lot of competition.
BOB GARFIELD: But Senator, the customer we’re discussing
isn't the social media user. It is the advertiser who also has no comparable Chevy or Toyota to shop for. If a brand wants to reach 2 billion users or just a micro-targeted subset, there is no place to go but the duopoly, and so dominant are they that other publishers are forced to use Facebook and Google to distribute their content.
MATT STOLLER: I mean, the problem is the business model.
BOB GARFIELD: Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Open Markets Institute and expert on antitrust issues, says Zuckerberg was actually content to talk about his company's efforts, say, to suppress hate speech.
MATT STOLLER: He didn’t want to talk about the core problem with Facebook, which is Facebook. So everything that people are seeing and they don’t like, the privacy violations, the censorship, the incentive to foment ethnic hatred, both domestically and then even worse with the genocide in Myanmar, the electoral interference, the concentration of power in the advertising market, all of that is a result of the basic business model of Facebook.
BOB GARFIELD: And this brings Standard Oil of Ohio to mind. It brings AT&T to mind. It brings government breakups to mind.
MATT STOLLER: I don't think there’s anything at this point Mark Zuckerberg can do, whether he will try, I mean, if the business model is flawed. You can’t marry an essential communication service with this level of intrusive targeting in advertising. It’s like if the phone company listened in on every conversation that you had and manipulated those conversations and also, you know, used what it heard to advertise, you know, that business model has too many inherent conflicts of interest. So I do think you’re going to need to see the business restructured. I think it does need to be split up.
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BOB GARFIELD: Mark Zuckerberg can take off his big boy necktie and go back to his t-shirt but, as he surely understands, the real news here isn’t about fake news, the real news is Facebook's existential challenge of staying in one piece.
BOB GARFIELD: Coming up, the corrupting influence of money in politics in the old days and in contemporary Montana. This is On the Media.