A phalanx of photographers tracking your every facial twitch with fingers on the trigger ready to shoot like a pack of wild-game hunters surrounding their prey. That’s what Zuckerberg faced before he even took a single question from Senators from both the Judiciary and Commerce committees.

I suspect that Paul Ryan – who has finally announced that he will be retiring come next January and who will therefore not run again in the upcoming midterms – may face slightly less of a phalanx of lens swiveling image-hunters over the next few days and weeks.

Yes, Zuck is much much richer than Mr. Ryan, and just about everybody else on the planet except a few people like Jeff Bezos. But all that frantic zooming and clicking (inevitable pun) on Capitol Hill really has to do with social media and the desperation to get inside the head of the smiley global-hand-holding-connected-community-loving guy, who must also be a really smart businessman, right?

Here’s what National Review’s Rich Lowry wrote today in the NY Post:

Facebook can’t bear to admit that it has garnered the largest collection of data known to man to sell ads against and line the pockets of its founder and investors.

The problem isn’t that Zuckerberg is a businessman, and an exceptionally gifted one, but that he pretends to have stumbled out of the lyrics of John Lennon’s song “Imagine.” To listen to him, Facebook is all about connectivity and openness — he just happens to have made roughly $63 billion as the T-shirt-wearing champion of “the global community,” whatever that means.

In other words, while Zuckerberg and his top execs like Sheryl Sandberg might go on about their need to rigorously control their users’ data, Facebook makes it’s billions by selling the data all of us willingly (whether we actually stop to think about what we’re doing or not) give them permission to collect and share. And therefore to sell. And younger generations (and some older folks too) are simply not that careful about what they post online; which tends to be: Just. About. Every. Thing.

But therer’s another angle to the fascination with Zuckerberg, and that’s a sort of contempt for those (the majority of people) who don’t understand even the basics of how social media acquires and sells data. Commentators running from Reason’s Robby Soave to The Federalist’s Ben Domenech to Vox’s Emily Stewart (that’s a reasonable range of political opinion right there) have been downright dismissive of our collective ignorance on the matter. Especially by some of the older people in Washington. For example consider some of the Senators’ questions. Poor Senator Hatch asked:

How do you sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service?

To which Zuck replied:

Senator we run ads.

Ba-dum!

One has to assume that Hatch’s aides understand a little better than the venerable Senator representing Utah how Facebook works, and a younger senator might have asked the same question but framed it like a prosecutor setting up a clever witness to then begin to chip away at Facebook’s business model and the risks it entails to its users and to society at large. Not Hatch.

But we shouldn’t hide in shame if we don’t know how, for example, an API (Application Programming Interface) works. An API appears to be a tool that simplifies app creation for app developers. As Facebook explains on one of its pages dedicated to developers:

The Graph API is the primary way to get data into and out of the Facebook platform. It’s a low-level HTTP-based API that apps can use to programmatically query data, post new stories, manage ads, upload photos, and perform a wide variety of other tasks.

Did you catch those words “query data”?? And “get data into and out of the Facebook platform”?? (italics added)

Facebook does not sneak data out the back door for the firms that are its true clients. It loads them up onto semi’s parked outside the main entrance. You’re just too busy taking selfies to notice.

It seems we are approaching a world where a working, if simple, knowledge of the basics of cryptography is going to be as important to a civics class as reading a text on the subject. Your data is being bought and sold, shared, used, and analyzed. Because you clicked HERE! We’ll have to learn a few things about how to control that process the best we can. Rather than create yet another layer of government regulation to oversee compaines like Facebook and Google. As powerful as they are. No one wants to make a Hatch of things, right?

(To be fair to Senator Hatch, he got the joke immediately.)

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