OPINION: Mark Zuckerberg’s appearance before Congress

When done right, parliamentary hearings and public inquiries represent an unique opportunity for business leaders to state their case. That didn’t happen with Mark Zuckerberg, says Assurety founder Ed Williams

On the face of it, Mark Zuckerberg got lucky last week. When he appeared in front of Congress he might have expected to face some rigorous questioning about his business and its methods. Instead what he got was some over-zealous politicians seemingly more interested in playing to the cameras that in carrying out any kind of proper forensic questioning. 

From the responses he gave it is clear that if the Congressmen and women had been doing their job properly he would have quickly come unstuck. His over-prepared responses of media friendly sound bites would not have withstood the scrutiny of any kind of rigorous questioning. His answers lacked credibility and with better questioning that lack of credibility would have been obvious.

Fortunately for him, though, the committee were clearly far more interested in being seen to act tough than trying to get proper answers from him. Indeed, most of their questions were not even questions at all; they were simply statements put to him to show off how what they knew. This left Zuckerberg free to respond in any way he wished. When they did ask questions, they were too broad and open to produce meaningful responses, and when Zuckerberg avoided answering a question, they did not repeat it, leaving him free to ignore it altogether.

The sad thing is that by not properly grilling him, the politicians were actually doing not just the public but doing him a disservice. This was not just a missed opportunity for them to find out the truth, it was also a missed opportunity for Zuckerberg to prove his critics wrong. A successful business needs to show that it is open, transparent, credible and committed to making the changes it needs to. This would have been the perfect opportunity for him to show that. When done right, parliamentary hearings and public inquiries represent an unique opportunity for business leaders to state their case.

People’s attitudes to social media are changing fast, yet right now Mr Zuckerberg is clearly not showing that he is ahead of that change. He needs to be if his business is to survive. Right now, he might feel as though he had a lucky escape in Congress, but in the long run people want to see a business leader who understands transparency and will answer real questions. What we saw was someone with an extremely effective PR team.

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