Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the Senate judiciary and commerce committees on Capitol Hill. Photo by Oliver Douliery

In a joint session of the Senate Commerce and Judiciary Committees, senators questioned Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, about his company’s information sharing practices and the data firm Cambridge Analytica. Senate leaders attempted to understand the social media giant’s place in an ever growing and complicated market, and determine if legislative measures are needed to protect social media users’ privacy and data. Legislators also began to examine what those measures might look like.

Lawmakers attempted to wade through the complex definition of Facebook throughout Zuckerberg’s testimony. Individual Senators defined the platform differently and therefore focused their questioning on varying aspects of the social media giant’s business model.

By the end of the testimony the legislators appeared to split into a few camps based on their definitions of Facebook. Some believed the platform to be for the distribution of media and ads, others a social connection platform and still others seeing Facebook as something completely different.

Zuckerberg argued that the social media giant was, in fact, a communication tool.

“As Facebook has grown, people everywhere have gotten a powerful new tool for staying connected to the people they love, and for building communities and powerful new businesses,” the CEO said of his company, later reinforcing this by emphasizing large fundraising efforts after Hurricane Harvey and how, “more than 70 million small businesses use Facebook to create jobs and grow.”

The seemingly rudimentary questions that many of the legislators were asking showed that the lawmakers were trying to understand and identify the problems which can surround how data is handled on social media.

Most of the legislature’s questions revolved around data security within Facebook, with Cambridge Analytica’s ability to gain access to 87 million user’s data bringing this issue to the forefront, as well as the implications of how data being used for ad development coincides with a user’s privacy.

Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois noted the importance of this privacy when he asked Zuckerberg if he would be willing to tell everyone the hotel he stayed at last night, or the people he messages, or any of the personal details of his life. After Zuckerberg jokingly refused the Senator had this to say, “I think that might be what this is all about— your right to privacy, the limits of your right to privacy, and how much you’d give away in modern America,” said Durbin.

Many other Senators mirrored Durban’s stance while including personal anecdotes and attempting to simplify the information even further, with Senator Bill Nelson D-FL equating personal messaging data being used in targeting advertisements to his love of chocolate.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, while holding up Facebook’s lengthy terms of service agreement, which every user is required to agree to before using the company’s services, asked Zuckerberg if he believed every user actually read the agreement and knew what they were signing up for and how their data was being used.

“I don’t think that the average person likely reads that whole document,” Zuckerberg admitted of the company’s terms of service, going on however to mention that the company attempts to intuitively explain key pieces of the agreement every time a Facebook user makes a post.

Congress is expected to bring more social media focused privacy legislation in the days to come after Zuckerberg’s testimony, possibly modeled off of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, which greatly increases a user’s rights to know what data a company is keeping about them. This is important to realize as Zuckerberg made it clear he would not block any legislation that he felt clearly, “correctly addressed the problem.”

As both Zuckerberg and lawmakers seemed willing to work on a comprehensive solution to protect user’s data within the US, stock prices of the social media giant rose 4.5% during the testimony, showing a significant growth after the company’s stock had experienced major setbacks earlier in the week.