I sent an email yesterday to James Patterson (best selling crime and thriller writer) with a great new idea for a novel that I think he could work wonders with. The story is as follows; a Russian diplomat and his daughter get poisoned on British soil but they survive. A war of words between the East and the West follows shortly. As a backdrop to all this, one of the biggest tech companies in the world is embroiled in a data scandal that claims to have had an effect on one British referendum and one American election. Diplomats are pointing fingers in every which way, while Russia sits back (topless) on its horse, laughing.

I haven’t had a reply from the very busy Mr James Patterson, but when I do I suspect it will read something like, ‘I don’t deal with cold war fiction, it’s a saturated market’.

The non-fictional nature of that which I have detailed above is astounding. Increasingly, the political tensions in our world seem to be reaching a boiling point. The Facebook data scandal is the biggest breach of consumer trust this century, and at the same time the Congressional hearings by which the American government questioned Mark Zuckerberg is as farcical as when Barry Roux tried to convince an entire nation that Oscar Pistorius did not shoot Reeva Steenkamp.

‘Senator, we run ads…’ Zuckerberg trailed off nervously, obviously withholding a grin.

There are three main problems with the Senate and Congress hearings of Mark Zuckerberg. On April 10 and 11, I put myself through watching four gruelling hours of footage so that you didn’t have to. The first issue is that the senators lack desire to punish Zuckerberg  – they believe in him. The term ‘exemplar of the American dream’ was thrown around frequently, and every single time it landed at the feet of Zuckerberg. The panel of senators were all convinced that Zuckerberg was not the bad guy, and the fact that he started a multi-billion dollar company from his Harvard dorm room was a star spangled shield that protects him from any wrongdoing. John Thune, the Republican chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee started his line of questioning with this, ‘You and the company you have created…represent the American dream’, which is like telling a naughty schoolboy that the school needs more kids like him.

The second issue with the hearing is entertaining, yet tragic. The lack of technological knowledge of some senators was farcical, with at least half of them failing to grasp the basic purpose of Facebook. My favourite example was Senator Orrin Hatch grappling with how Facebook turns a profit.

He asked, ‘How do you sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your services?’.

An awkward pause filled the courtroom and any seriousness was immediately drained from the situation.

‘Senator, we run ads…’ Zuckerberg trailed off nervously, obviously withholding a grin.

What we saw at the hearings was akin to a panel of Hindus quizzing a Rabbi on the laws of Kosher. This farcical line of questioning has achieved the most publicity, draining a lot of the importance and gravity of the situation away.

The third issue is the misplacement of blame. Ever since the 2016 presidential election there has been rising palpable tension on a global scale. People were pointing fingers at Russia, rightly so, yet we as a Western conglomerate of similar ideologies had no way of punishing the belligerent. Now, lawmakers have a target in their sights upon which they can release that tension – Cambridge Analytica. The company is charged with stealing the data of 87 million users. This is wrong. Cambridge Analytica should be punished, what they have done is illegal. However, there is a bigger issue at hand. The accessibility of this data is something that needs to be made much harder. Zuckerberg, in the Tuesday hearing, said that at the time he found out that Cambridge Analytica was stealing data, he did not issue harsher repercussions because, and I quote, ‘we don’t know what Cambridge Analytica has done with this data’. I take great issue with this and see it as an ignorance of responsibility on behalf of Zuckerberg and Facebook. When a shipment of weapons is stolen, the police don’t withhold their investigation until a crime has been committed. The theft is crime enough and deserves attention.

What needs to follow this scandal is much more protection of people’s personal data and the ability for them to completely block social sites from accessing it. It is Zuckerberg’s responsibility, as leader of the world’s biggest social media platform, to set the standards for data protection, and following a punishment of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, I hope he does this.

 

Josh is the founder of website ‘A Visual Guide To The Dark’ which can be found here.