What is Facebook? "Facebook is a way for people to sign up and enter their information online and get in touch with other people, and then become friends with them and write back and forth and post photos, I guess. It’s a computer game."
That is what one 80-year-old citizen of the United States of America believes. She's my grandma. And her interpretation of the social network doesn't sound all that different from what we're hearing from members of Congress this week as they questioned Facebook's CEO, Mark Zuckerberg.
Zuckerberg, 33, testified on Capitol Hill for almost ten hours, and after watching the livestream, I walked away both underwhelmed and under-informed. I have been a Facebook user since January 2006, when I joined at age 14. I use the social network multiple times a day — to read content, keep in touch with friends, follow leaders, engage with businesses and brands, watch videos, and organize movements. And I used it when I ran for Congress in 2016, at the age of 24, in my home state of California.
I have plenty of questions for Mark Zuckerberg. I want to know the degree to which Facebook failed its user base in the now infamous Cambridge Analytica case, a breach that affected up to 87 million people. I want to know how Facebook should or will be formally regulated in the future around privacy, protection, and use or abuse of data. I want to know the depth of information that is collected and 'traded' about users and non-users while on Facebook and non-affiliated platforms. I want to know about enforcement (or lack thereof) of their policies around bigotry, hate speech, foreign election meddling, fake news, and more.
Congress did not get to the crux of these Cambridge Analytica issues, because Congress has no clue how Facebook works. Too many members confirmed technological illiteracy, which should be entirely unacceptable for the ruling body of the most powerful country on earth in the twenty-first century, not to mention the security and economic risks posed by such ignorance of our political leadership.
"How do you sustain a business model in which users don't pay for your service?" asked Senator Orrin Hatch, 84. Zuckerberg seemed momentarily stunned at the question. "Senator, we run ads," Zuckerberg replied plainly, with the slightest hint of shade.
The average American is twenty years younger than their elected representative. But congresspeople haven't always been this old: In 1981, the average age of a representative was 49. Today, in the 115th Congress, it is 59 in the House and 63 in the Senate.
Case in point: Representative Don Young of Alaska is 84 years old, while the median age of people in Alaska is 33.
The decisions being made today will disproportionately affect those of us who have no place at that policy-making table, which is one among many reasons we need young people to run for and be elected to office here and now.
When I announced my run for Congress in 2016, I reflected on the need for diversity and real representation in our democracy. Millennial and female participation will shape the nation. Historically marginalized voices are uniting in chorus. The largest voting demographic of present and future will not stop short of change. The best qualified person is not necessarily an older, white male; that must not be the default, for young does not mean less capable of critical thought.
Kamala Harris was one of the only exceptions to the largely and unfortunately irrelevant, uninformed, awkward line of questions from elected officials. The first-term California Senator demonstrated a tech-savvy while pressing the Facebook CEO on his failure to explain how the company tracked user data beyond platforms that the social network owns — and, once again, how Facebook failed to inform users of the known Cambridge Analytica data breach when it occurred in 2015.
If we want laws that appropriately and swiftly regulate the changing digital and cyber landscape, we need to elect a diverse base of lawmakers who understand, utilize and engage with the very tools and platforms that are ubiquitous across industries today.
So my fellow technologically literate peers, please run for office. Heck, use Facebook to get yourself elected!
Read this article on Cosmopolitan.