Thursday, April 12, 2018

Can We Afford a Digitally Illiterate Congress?

Like many people I found the Zuckerberg Congressional Hearings disturbing on several levels. Yes, there are some serious issues with Facebook and other Internet services with regards to privacy, security, and social impact. We clearly need to deal with them. That is probably a topic for more discussion and blog posts. The lack of understanding of how technology and the Internet works on the part of people who can and likely will pass laws about them was also deeply concerning.

Doug Bergman talked about this at length in his post “The Elephant in the Room.” That’s a great read and I recommend it highly. But I have to stick in my own two cents.

Someone asked me if we required deep aviation knowledge in the members of Congress who questioned Howard Hughes. I think their point was that we don’t expect our Congress people to be deeply technical on all subjects that come before them. That’s a valid point  but at the same time we would hope that they would consult with experts before making decisions. And frankly some of the questions should have been general knowledge and were not deeply technical.

A lot of people who disturbed when Senator Hatch asked how Facebook could maintain a business model where its users didn’t pay for the service. I know I was. Advertising support is a model that predates the internet. It’s a model that allows us free radio and TV for example. To not know that this is how Facebook supports itself is worrying to me.

That and other questions could have been and should have been explained during staff preparation of the Congress people while they prepared their questions.  They are pretty basic.

These hearings were one of the best arguments that everyone needs some computer science knowledge. Not just the computer people. Not just the STEM people. Everyone! And just maybe, with the way things are going,  its particularly important for those planning on a career in politics.

It also seemed that several people had trouble understanding the answers even though Zuckerberg tried to make them simple. It seemed like one Congress person had no real understanding of what an encrypted message was about. That’s not just a Facebook or even internet thing. Though we do often discuss it in digitally literacy units (I know I do.)

1 comment:

Garth said...

How Zuckerberg kept a straight face is beyond me. If it was me I would have called some senator an idiot. The questions shows the age of the senators and the generation they are still in. When Hatch asked that question I thought I had miss heard it. I think most of those senators were in there just for their own publicity. No prep, just walk in, sit down, and ask stupid questions so they can be on TV. Very embarrassing for the American public that those are the people in power in this nation.