Sen. John Thune
Mark Zuckerberg is nearly as much of a household name as the platform he created itself. Facebook, which was developed by Zuckerberg in his college dorm room, has revolutionized how people connect with one another. Each month, it’s used by more than 2 billion people from all corners of the world – 1.4 billion people use it every single day. That’s more than four times the population of the United States and 1500 times the population of South Dakota.
People have the ability to share a wide variety of content on Facebook. Nearly half of American adults say they receive at least some of their news on the platform, among other content like photos, updates about family and friends, articles, and opinions. In fact, it’s possible that you found this very column through a Facebook post in your newsfeed. If you’re viewing this online, there’s likely a button nearby that would allow you to quickly share it with your Facebook community. That’s how engrained the platform has become in so many Americans’ daily lives.
As many of these users have come to find out, though, social media platforms, including Facebook, are not immune to online vulnerabilities. And if you take the possibility of a hack, data breach, or simply a breach of trust and expand it over a multi-billion-person community, there’s a strong potential for adverse effects, no matter how powerful a communication tool it is.
One recent incident involving Facebook and data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica led to a historic hearing on Capitol Hill, which I was fortunate enough to lead. The Senate Commerce Committee, which I chair, has jurisdiction over federal consumer protection efforts, among many other issues. We teamed up with the Senate Judiciary Committee to host a joint hearing that featured nearly half of the U.S. Senate and examined a significant breach of trust between Facebook and its users, one that led to the information of 87 million users being obtained by Cambridge Analytica.
While Mr. Zuckerberg provided answers to several of my questions, there’s a lot more Congress needs to know, not just about this incident, but also how consumers are being protected across the internet ecosystem. We need to know that when Americans sign up for Facebook, other social media platforms, or use online tools, it’s easy for them to understand exactly how the information they put online will be used and shared. We also need to know exactly how Facebook and others plan to take more responsibility for what happens on their platforms. And we need to ensure that political speech is strongly protected, whether it’s left, right, or center.
As I told Mr. Zuckerberg at the hearing, in many ways, his story and the company he created represents the American Dream. Many people, young and old, are inspired by what he’s accomplished. But at the same time, it’s up to him to ensure that dream doesn’t become a privacy nightmare for the millions of Americans who use Facebook. If he fails to do so, new laws may be necessary to secure Americans’ privacy. The world is watching, and Congress is, too.