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Facebook chair/CEO and pretend Civil Rights hero Mark Zuckerberg appeared before the House Financial Services Committee yesterday, ostensibly to testify about the social media platform's own already-troubled cryptocurrency, "Libra," which may be going virtual tits up before it even launches. Because we love you, dear reader, we will not talk about cryptozoology, the blockchain, or Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain" here, except to mention that several Dems warned Zuck that trying to take over online pretend money would get him into perilous antitrust Waters, of the Maxine kind. Which could be a breakup song of a whole 'nother sort.

But since the committee had him there anyway, several members decided to grill Zuckerberg on a bunch of Facebook's other scandals, of which there is no shortage, like its piss-poor record on online privacy, its susceptibility to promoting fake news that has pushed electoral fuckery or even genocide, and its crappy working conditions for the poor schlubs who have literally developed symptoms of PTSD while moderating Facebook's digital sewer. As for Zuck's claim that unbridled Free Speech on Facebook is just like letting Martin Luther King publish works that ended segregation, House Dems weren't about to let him get away with that letter from Birmingham Fail. Let's sample some highlights from the pillory fight!


First up (here at least, if not chronologically!), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had a few questions for Zuckerberg about Facebook's recent decision to allow ads that contain lies, because it's not the company's place to restrict political speech, just to make money off it. As Brooklyn-based public defender Scott Hechinger notes, AOC is just damn good at questioning that gets to the heart of the matter and helps build a larger case about how, in this case, professions of "neutrality" actually allow public discourse to be monopolized by bad actors.

Ocasio-Cortez asks if it would be OK to target a Facebook ad at black voters, telling them the wrong date for an election. Zuck confidently says no, that's definitely not allowed under the company's rules against voter suppression. Isn't that a relief? But then she offers a more problematic hypothetical involving deliberate misinformation, and Zuck is left without a great answer:

AOC: Would I be able to run advertisements on Facebook targeting Republicans in primaries saying that they voted for the Green New Deal? I mean, if you're not fact-checking political advertisements, I'm just trying to understand the bounds here, what's fair game.

Zuck: Congresswoman, I don't know the answer to that off the top of my head, I think probably.

AOC:
You don't know if I'll be able to do that.

Zuck:
I think probably.

AOC:
Do you see a potential problem here with a complete lack of fact-checking on political advertisements?

Fortunately, Zuckerberg at least manages to pass kindergarten-level ethics, although beyond that, he's a tad flummoxed, because what to do about blatantly false claims is very complicated.

Well, Congresswoman, I think lying is bad, and I think if you were to run an ad that had a lie in it, that would be bad. That's different from it being -- from it, in -- in our position, the right thing to do to prevent your constituents or people in an election from seeing that you had lied.

Behind the stammering was the old "meet bad speech with more speech" bit, plus the dubious suggestion that once people knew she'd lied, she'd be in big trouble with voters, which may float on the ol' John Stuart Mill pond, but ignores the reality that compulsive political liars are handsomely rewarded with money and power, and that Facebook's only meaningful metric is numbers of people reached, not the quality of information out there.

AOC also noted there's something weird about the inclusion of the Daily Caller as part of Facebook's "fact-checking" crew, given that it ran (and later deleted) articles by Jason Kessler, an organizer of the Unite The Right Klanbake in Charlottesville. Not his problem, Zuck explained, because you see the Daily Caller's fact-checking arm was certified by Fact Checkers R Us, so what could he do? Nonetheless, at least Ocasio-Cortez got into the Congressional Record the fact that Zuckerberg has attended "dinner parties with far-right figures," and asked if he'd discussed the popular wingnut conspiracy theory -- shared by the "president" -- that social media is mean to conservatives. He couldn't recall what exactly the question was, so she let that one slide.

Let's also raise a glass to the fine work done by another first-term House Dem, California's Katie Porter, who wanted to get Zuckerberg on the record about the stress experienced by Facebook's army of content moderators, who don't work for Facebook but for subcontractors. Noting articles earlier this year at Wired and the Verge about the mental health crises faced by Facebook mods who are constantly exposed to conspiracy theories and extreme violence, Porter wanted to know whether Zuckerberg would want to have such a job. Would he be willing to do it for just an hour a day, and get paid what his workers get, while having to get by with the meager mental health support the workers are given? And if not, why does he think it's OK for them, huh? This is damn good:

Zuckerberg declines Rep. Katie Porter's challenge to work as a content monitor youtu.be


Facebook is known as a great place to work: free food, ping-pong tables, great employee benefits. But Facebook doesn't use its employees for the hardest jobs in the company. You've got about 15,000 contractors watching murders, stabbings, suicides, other gruesome, disgusting videos for content moderation.

That one, Zuck could answer: Yes, he does. Porter then noted that some contracted workers, as the Verge reported, are allowed a whopping nine minutes a day of "wellness time," to get away from their desks to cry and freak out over what they're constantly exposed to. And of course, once they leave the job, their healthcare is gone, even if the job gave them PTSD (or "merely" a distorted connection to reality).

Zuckerberg thought that really wasn't fair, since the contract moderators are paid a fair wage and decent benefits while they're on the job, "at least $15 an hour," and up to $20 in cities with a higher cost of living. We're pretty sure Porter was more concerned about the workers not getting any mental combat pay, though.

As for whether the CEO would be willing to be a content moderator for an hour a day for the next year, to do the whole "walk a mile in the other person's shoes" bit, well that just struck Zuck as silly: "I'm not sure it would best serve our community for me to spend that much time --"

After clarifying that Zuckerberg didn't mean to imply he's not qualified to be a content moderator, Porter took that as a "no." But really, how fair is that? A whole quarter century ago, before he became completely tedious, Michael Moore had fun on his "TV Nation" show with a stunt he called the "CEO Challenge," where he tried -- usually with no luck -- to get company honchos to do basic jobs involving their products (the CEO of Ford at least managed to change the oil in an Explorer SUV). But surely asking an important man to empathize with his drones is a bridge too far.

And let's not overlook this excellent line of questioning from Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), who in her third term is a grizzled veteran compared to the other two whippersnappers. She didn't like to see Zuckerberg trying to pass himself off as an avatar of civil rights, no thank you, not one bit, given Facebook's lousy record:

Yes, she agreed, Facebook sure likes to present itself as doing a lot to advance civil rights, but that mostly seems to be the result of the company being accused of digital discrimination. Has Zuck even read the report by the consultant he hired to address civil rights concerns? Does he know who's on his "civil rights task force"? (Beatty was not pleased when the only name he could come up with was Facebook's own CEO, Sheryl Sandberg). Hell, does Zuckerberg even know anything about his network's reach in the black community?

Beatty: Do you know what the percentage of African Americans are on Facebook in comparison to majority folks? Do you know what the percentages are?

Zuck: People using the Facebook?

Beatty: Yes. Do you know what the percentages are for African Americans?

Zuck: I don't because we don't collect the races of people

Oh dear. This really is not a good moment to say you deliberately don't care if people are black, white, green or purple, dude.

Beatty, of course, knows full well, though she left it to Zuckerberg to do his damn homework, because it was sent to him.

Well it came out in a report in the Pew Research Center that was sent to you. So maybe you just don't read a lot of things that deal with civil rights or African Americans.

We looked: It's 70 percent, the same as the percentage for whites, and within the margin of error for the 69 percent of Latinos who use the Facebook, a nice distinction.

Maybe Mr. Zuckerberg needs some remedial time on civil rights before he invokes Martin Luther King, or even B.B., is what we're saying.

[Vox / Guardian / Wired / Verge / Politico / Roll Call / Pew Research Center]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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