19 July 2019
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg displayed admirable skills in human interaction during his appearance at the US Congress last week. Photo: AFP
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg displayed admirable skills in human interaction during his appearance at the US Congress last week. Photo: AFP

Facebook’s Zuckerberg shows savvy in human interaction

Facebook co-founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg fielded questions from US lawmakers for roughly 10 hours over two days last week.

Though the grilling was intense, it is said that the 33-year-old billionaire didn’t break a sweat throughout the process.

The fact is that most of those interrogating him, veterans of Capitol Hill, appeared to have little understanding of the digital world and how it operates.

Many of the questions asked during the hearing were hilarious. One senator asked how Facebook manages to survive without charging users, to which the young tech entrepreneur respectfully answered that the company runs ads. 

Another lawmaker asked whether Twitter and Facebook are the same thing, while a colleague wondered why he always sees chocolate ads when using Facebook and asked how does Facebook know he is a chocolate lover.

The average age of Zuckerberg’s interrogators is 57.8 in the Senate and 61.8 in the House of Representatives. That is perhaps one reason why they are not too familiar with the new technology.

Given that the digital gap in one of the world’s most developed economies remains huge, perhaps the competitive edge of internet firms like Facebook will sustain for a much longer time.

There are other reasons why Zuckerberg managed to go through the congressional inquiries largely unscathed.

His team has done a good job in handling the data leak crisis. Facebook has admitted its mistake and pledged to do something about it.

It adjusted the estimated number of user accounts affected by the Cambridge Analytica data privacy breach to 87 million from the previously reported 50 million, in an apparent bid to manage expectations.

Zuckerberg also apologized publicly after getting the facts clear, and promised to have his team to discuss with them proposals for further regulation.

Before his appearance on Capitol Hill, the Facebook chairman reportedly hired a number of experts to help him prepare for the hearings. The day before the hearings started, he met with a number of lawmakers to pay his respects and probably also ask them what topics they were most concerned about.

Though Facebook, his social media platform, has been criticized for contributing to detached and impersonal attitudes and communications, the value of real-world social interaction has not been lost on him at all.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 13

Translation by Julie Zhu with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist

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