Ted Cruz used his precious five minutes during Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional testimony today to hit on the topic that really matters to Americans: Where the hell did that awesome Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day page go?
Zuckerberg was in town to face questions from Senate lawmakers on a number of serious issues—the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook’s role in data protection, and the platform’s responsibility for various recent political crises. But Ted Cruz had other plans, and magically transformed into a sentient version of your uncle’s irate Facebook posts in real time.
“Mr. Zuckerberg, there are great many Americans who are deeply concerned that Facebook and other tech companies are engaged in a pervasive pattern of bias and political censorship,” Cruz said.
He then rattled off a list “examples”: A May 2016 Gizmodo story alleging Facebook’s suppression of conservative news; the apparent shutdown of a Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day page, which appears to have happened nearly six years ago; the alleged blocking of “over two dozen Catholic pages”; and the kerfuffle over the page of noted Trump supporters Diamond and Silk. (If you ever wanted to hear Ted Cruz talk about Diamond and Silk in front of a packed Congressional house, I offer my congratulations.)
Zuckerberg, sporting a bright blue tie (something that no doubt enraged Cruz), tried his best to respond to Cruz’s questions, but it was clear this afternoon that he likes Ted Cruz about as much as the rest of us.
“No, Senator, we do not generally ask people about their political orientation when they are joining the company,” he said in response to a question about the politics of Facebook’s content reviewers.
Cruz then pivoted to a topic likely unfamiliar to most of the other lawmakers in the room: Palmer Luckey, the co-founder of buzzy VR company Oculus Rift and alt-right martyr who was ousted from Facebook last March. Among other things, Luckey apparently bankrolled a pro-Trump “meme machine,” met with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and noted troll Chuck C. Johnson about Trump’s border wall, and is now allegedly teaming up with Peter Thiel to create “surveillance technology that could be deployed on borders between countries and around military bases,” according to the New York Times.
“Why was Palmer Luckey fired?” Cruz asked. Zuckerberg betrayed an almost humanlike hint of annoyance, responding, “That is a specific personnel matter that seems like it would be inappropriate to speak to here … I can commit that it was not because of a political view.” (Interestingly, as BuzzFeed reporter Ryan Mac pointed out on Twitter, Palmer Luckey has made recent financial contributions to Ted Cruz’s political campaigns.)
The whole interaction was enjoyable, in the way that watching two relatives you particularly dislike fight is enjoyable. On the down side, however, Cruz came mighty close to eliciting sympathy for an immensely powerful billionaire, which is a spectacle with no winners, least of all Facebook users.
Then again, Cruz had a reason to stick to this kind of red meat: His 2016 presidential campaign used $5.8 million worth of Cambridge Analytica’s services. (He has put the blame on the firm, claiming that it told him the data was properly handled.)
The Facebook onslaught continues Tuesday morning, when Zuckerberg will appear before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The testimonies are part of a broader band-aid campaign put forth by Facebook, which finally appears to have used up the million-foot leash given to it by just about anyone who has the power to hold it accountable.
Zuckerberg has been on a whirlwind apology tour, and just this morning, the company announced a new “data abuse bounty” program. It’s ostensibly meant to uncover the next Cambridge Analytica kerfuffle, but it also looks a whole lot like a carefully prepared PR move.
Then again, the company needs it: Its repeated inability to take real responsibility for the bad things that happen on its platform has finally caught up with it. After initially publicly denying it played a role in the 2016 election, Zuckerberg has emerged as a picture of penance, issuing apology after apology for Facebook’s misdeeds.
Just don’t expect Ted Cruz to get to the bottom of all of that. He’s only after those darn Chick-Fil-A haters.