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WVU expert: Zuckerberg testimony is ‘turning point’ for data privacy discussion

Side by side portraits of E. Cohen and N. Bowman

WVU experts Elizabeth Cohen and Nick Bowman are available to comment about Mark Zuckerberg's congressional testimony.

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While West Virginia University social media expert Elizabeth Cohen says dramatic changes may not occur in Facebook’s business model—or even in people’s online behaviors—she says Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional testimony is a societal turning point for data privacy discussions. Further, she says, it’s time to classify social media companies like Facebook so the need for regulatory rules—if any—can be determined.

Elizabeth Cohen
Assistant Professor, Communications Studies
WVU Eberly College of Arts and Sciences

The pressure on Mark Zuckerberg to give this congressional testimony demonstrates that the revelations of the Cambridge Analytica scandal are a turning point in our society in terms of how we think about and talk about data privacy. I'm doubtful that this testimony will result in dramatic changes in Facebook's business model or in people's behaviors online right now, but moving forward, I think that the social responsibilities of social media companies will at least be something that people think about. Talking about what happened and what should happen with the data we all leave behind online is a step in the right direction.

One discouraging revelation from this hearing is that many of our legislators seem to be quite clueless about Facebook's business model, which is fueled by user data. The line of questioning from several senators leads me to believe that they don't have a good grasp of how these social media companies, and perhaps the Internet itself, work. 

Our law needs to classify social media companies like Facebook. Is Facebook a media company? Is Facebook a common carrier? Or are these companies something new entirely? Doing so will help us figure out what their responsibilities to us are and if and how they should be regulated. But I don't know how we can have that conversation if our legislators don't understand how Facebook works. 

Elizabeth Cohen audio file (1:09)

Contact information: 678.768.7765 (cell phone)

Nick Bowman
Associate Professor, Communications Studies
WVU Eberly College of Arts and Sciences

“It’s not too surprising that Mark Zuckerberg’s information would have been gathered by Cambridge Analytica. After all, around 87 million of Facebook’s 2 billion users were exposed, which represents just under one in 20 Facebook accounts. For many people (myself included), our data was exposed through one of our friends, and Zuckerberg probably had quite a few in 2015. No matter how “in the know” that any one person is with respect to their own social media activity, that same activity exists in and is influenced by a network of our friends, their friends and friends of friends.”

Nick Bowman audio file (:30)

Contact information: 314.307.6794 (cell phone)

West Virginia University experts can provide commentary, insights and opinions on various news topics. Search for an expert by name, title, area of expertise, or college/school/department in the Experts Database at WVU Today.



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