Some digital consultants welcomed the conversation around privacy and data security initiated by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s appearance on Capitol Hill this week, though many expressed concern during Tuesday’s Senate hearing about the lawmakers posturing to regulate the social network.
Zuckerberg testified before nearly half the Senate on Tuesday. On Wednesday he’ll appear before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
For many digital practitioners following the hearing, the concern was not with Zuckerberg’s answers, but with those asking the questions.
Democratic digital strategist Melissa Ryan tweeted during the Senate hearing: “Is there anything more painful than Mark Zuckerberg doing a Facebook 101 demo for a group of people who clearly don't use Facebook?”
It was abundantly clear during Tuesday’s hearing that the lawmakers circling regulation of the industry are out-of-step with its practices. GOP pollster Patrick Ruffini noted the irony of lawmakers’ pro-regulation stance.
“The reason Congress should be rooting for Facebook to succeed is that Facebook ads work much better for fundraising (and are enjoyed much more by users) than web display ads,” he tweeted.
Ruffini added that a crackdown could impact the way top lawmakers communicate with constituents. “A couple of years ago, we studied this and found that Facebook was far and away the #1 medium House offices were using the communicate with constituents.”
Of particular note for Democratic digital strategist Beth Becker was how the company’s new identification requirement for campaign and advocacy ad purchases would work. During his testimony, Zuckerberg was asked about transparency and how future foreign ad buys would be screened, and he cited the company’s verification program.
“Our verification program involves two pieces,” he said. “One is verifying the identity of the person who's buying the ads, that they have a valid government identity. The second is verifying their location.”
Becker worries it could impact advocates lacking a U.S. government identification. “I'm not just referring to immigration issues, but, for example, there's a lot of data that shows that lower income people lack said ID [because of the cost],” she said.
She also noted that the definition of issue ads is still evolving, despite Zuckerberg’s pledge of transparency.
“There needs to be very clear definition of what is, and isn't an issue ad or else we are right back where we are started,” Becker said.
While some lawmakers raised the idea of copying European-style privacy regulations during Tuesday’s hearing, others cautioned against those kinds of measures.
“We don’t want to over regulate,” said Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi), echoing his colleague, retiring Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch (R).
There’s another possible outcome from this week’s hearings. Beyond the prospect of new regulation governing digital advertising, there’s another possible outcome from this week’s hearings: they could become the subjects of the ads themselves.
At least that’s what GOP digital consultant Liz Mair predicted: “I'm not watching this hearing, but so far, it sounds like a lot of the footage will appear in Rick Scott ads soon,” she tweeted.