SAN DIEGO -- At the risk of being “unfriended” by members of Congress, there was a lot not to “Like” about the legislative branch’s assault this week on a certain social media site.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sat for hours over two days in separate hearings before House and Senate committees. The 33-year-old took questions from dozens of lawmakers -- including many senior citizens who didn’t seem to understand how the site works.
I wonder if this was what it was like for my parents’ generation, when folks wrung their hands and worried themselves sick in the 1950s over this new-fangled abomination called “rock ‘n’ roll.”
I’m going to tell you what the Facebook hearings were really about. But first, we have to be clear on what they were not about.
The hearings were not about the privacy of Americans, who voluntarily relinquish that privacy when they choose to open a Facebook account and then choose to post personal data on their page to seek the approval of family, friends and complete strangers. As Zuckerberg told lawmakers, Facebook’s users call the shots as to who sees what -- if for no other reason than that they can vote with their “delete” button and leave the site. They choose what to reveal -- and to whom.
Nor were the hearings about the need for Zuckerberg to apologize for the fact that a Republican presidential candidate successfully used in 2016 much the same data-collection methods that were successfully used by a Democratic presidential candidate in 2008 and 2012. The Republicans essentially beat the Democrats at their own game.
And nor were the Facebook hearings about getting closure on the 2016 election. That won’t happen. Neither Hillary Clinton nor President Trump will let the election go. Now congressional Democrats suggest that the reason that young people, African-Americans, Latinos, working-class whites and probably some members of the Obama administration didn’t vote for Clinton was because a sinister third party hijacked their Facebook data and created anti-Hillary propaganda.
Speaking of apologies, Democrats need to apologize to the American people for the original sin of picking as their presidential nominee such a flawed, unappealing and unelectable candidate. After all, does anyone really believe that we would be here at this exact spot if Clinton had been elected because she remembered that there are voters in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin? And what if Clinton had won the election and done so in part because of successful mining of Facebook data? Democratic lawmakers would be giving Zuckerberg a medal -- or at least a “thumbs-up” emoji.
I miss the ol’ days when lackluster presidential hopefuls -- whether they were Democrats like Michael Dukakis and John Kerry, or Republicans like John McCain and Mitt Romney -- owned up to their failures. Nowadays, losers blame everyone from the FBI to the Russians to the media to Facebook.
These hearings were about what most things in Congress are usually about: power and money. Zuckerberg has plenty of both, and the lawmakers want their slice. And they will shame, flatter, threaten and arm-twist to get it.
As for power, Zuckerberg has an audience of more than 2.2 billion monthly users and the ability to call together a couple dozen of Silicon Valley’s top technology leaders at a summit to discuss best practices -- something that, by the way, more than one lawmaker asked him to do to advance their pet causes.
As for money, Forbes and Bloomberg both put Zuckerberg’s net worth at about $70 billion. He lost an estimated $15 billion due to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. But he made back $3 billion after his first day of congressional testimony.
Politicians need money like an opioid addict needs pills. So each time one of them told Zuckerberg during the hearings that he or she looked forward to “following up” with him, that could’ve been the signal. The bite is coming. This was no shake up. This was a shakedown. At least Tony Soprano did it with more style.
Again, we started this. We made Zuckerberg rich and powerful. All because of our insatiable need to share stuff and show off our “perfect” relationships, vacations, children and cuisine. How much of it is real? They ought to call it “Falsebook.”
For some people, it’s not about sharing but stirring. They like to know they’re having an effect on other people.
That reminds me. After this column runs, I’ll probably post it on Facebook. Hope you “Like” it.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available through every podcast app.