Congressional lawmakers finally got a chance to grill the Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg. The major issue, which the hearing revolves around is, that the company is too powerful and exploits the knowledge at their hand.
Mark Zuckerberg was questioned point-blank regarding the companies strategies, which seems to be acquiring competitors’ apps or copying their features. The CEO was asked about their negotiation tactic during mergers and acquisitions (M&A), which involves the above-mentioned strategies. To which Zuckerberg acknowledged, “the company has certainly adapted features that others have led in.”
Although, he denied any allegations which characterize Facebook use anti-competitive tactics, like pressurizing a company into selling its business, instead of competing with it.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) asked specifically about the company’s billion-dollar acquisition of Instagram in 2012, referencing the E-mail exchange between Zuckerberg and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. The conversation gives insights into the strategies followed by the company.
CEO, Mark Zuckerberg: By moving faster, Facebook could “prevent our competitors from getting footholds.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg: It is hard not to agree, it is better to do more and move faster, especially if that means you don’t have competitors build products that take some of our users.
Jayapal specifically asked, Has Facebook ever threatened to clone the products of another company while also trying to acquire that company? To which Zuckerberg replied, “Congresswoman, not that I recall.”
However, it appears Facebook had threatened to use its “Facebook Camera” app against Instagram before of the latter’s acquisition
In an email chain with Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom, Zuckerberg said, “at some point, you’ll need to figure out how you actually want to work with us.”
Systrom found the mail threatening – saying he feared Zuckerberg would go into ‘destroy mode’ if he didn’t sell Instagram to him.
Zuckerberg did not deny the conversation although disagreed with the characterization and that it was already clear Facebook was competing in the same space as Instagram is.
Jayapal further asked if Facebook tried similar tactics when it attempted to acquire Snapchat. “I don’t remember those specific conversations,” Zuckerberg responded. “But that was also an area where it was very clear that we were going to be building something,” he said.
Japayal rested her case against Facebook with the closing lines,
“When the dominant platform threatens its potential rivals, that should not be a normal business practice. Facebook is a case study, in my opinion, in monopoly power because your company harvests and monetizes our data, and then your company uses that data to spy on competitors, and to copy acquire and kill rivals”
The other concerning issue with Facebook is its ignorance towards the misinformation presented by the audience even on topics as deadly as the coronavirus.
Rep. David Cicilline said Facebook allows such content as it benefits the company’s engagement-driven business model to reap advertising dollars.
The lawmaker cited articles that drew millions of views on sites like Facebook while making claims about Covid-19, including those describing President Donald Trump’s musings about placing disinfectants inside the body or allegations that coronavirus “hype” is a political hoax.
“It is not what people want to see, and we rank what we show in Feed based on what is going to be most meaningful to people and what is going to create long-term satisfaction,” Zuckerberg said.
Cicilline brought up a video that dismissed the necessity of masks and called hydroxychloroquine a Covid-19 cure, which received substantial Facebook traffic over several hours.
Zuckerberg countered, “A lot of people shared that. And we did take it down because it violates our policies, this kind of noxious material is not helpful for our business.”
“After 20 million people saw it after a period of five hours?” Cicilline countered. “Doesn’t that suggest, Mr Zuckerberg, that your platform is so big that even with the right policies in place, you can’t contain deadly content?”
Cicilline asked, “During the greatest public health crisis of our lifetime, don’t you agree that these articles viewed by millions on your platform will cost lives?”