Columnist

Senator: Welcome to the Facebook hearings on Capitol Hill, which, if you have even the faintest understanding about what Facebook does with data, will leave you enraged and frustrated. These two days will be like being trapped in a glass box watching your aging parents try to install a software update. Hours will pass as they keep minimizing windows and double-clicking things, expecting this to achieve some effect, and you will pound on the glass until your fists are numb.

Senator 1: Mr. Zuckerberg, we hear that you started Facebook in your dorm room.

Mark Zuckerberg: Senator, yes.

Senator 1: I will now haltingly read a question that an aide who understands this technology better than I do has prepared, but I will mangle it slightly so that its premise is obviously wrong.

Zuckerberg: Senator, the answer to the specific question you have asked is, “No, Facebook has never done that.”

Senator 1: I feel like there is something more I ought to ask, but I won’t.

Senator 2: Mr. Zuckerberg, I hear that you started Facebook in your dorm room.

Zuckerberg: Senator, yes.

Senator 2: And are you still in college, young man?

Zuckerberg: (With faint contempt) Senator, no.

Senator 2: (With a triumphant look) Every computer screen contains millions of megapixels. Facebook has 2.1 billion users. So how many millions of bytes, or milibytes, do you include in this face book?

Zuckerberg: Senator, that question involves a specific number and I will have to get back to you.

Senator 3: I hear you started this company in your dorm room. Only in America, am I right?

Zuckerberg: Senator, technically, no.

Senator 5: Your user agreement sucks. Where I come from, we say that your users agreement stinks worse than a dead opossum under a cast-iron skillet! It’s lamer than two dead turkeys with a shoe full of muck. You need to go home and put it into plain English, not this Swahili!

Zuckerberg: Do not worry, Senator, in Swahili the agreement is equally unclear, unless you were just saying that to be vaguely racist.

Senator 6: I will use this time to grandstand and not ask any questions.

Zuckerberg: Senator, yes.

Sen. Dick Durbin: Mr. Zuckerberg, where do you sleep?

Zuckerberg: What?

Durbin: Do you sleep? Where? But also, how?

Zuckerberg: I would rather not share.

Durbin: And isn’t that what this is all about?

Zuckerberg: (Drinking five glasses of water) No.

Senator 7: How many different categories of data do you collect? How many data points?

Zuckerberg: Senator, what?

Senator 7: Do you agree that there ought to be a law against this?

Zuckerberg: I can say absolutely beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is fixed now.

Senator 7: What is “it”?

Zuckerberg: Senator, do you know the answer to that question or are you asking for information?

Senator 7: I do not know.

Zuckerberg: Then “it” is “everything.”

Senator 7: Well, that sounds good.

Sen. Ted Cruz: What I want to know is why Facebook has targeted Chick-fil-A appreciation day pages for elimination. Appreciating Chick-fil-A is a type of speech, some would say the highest form of speech. This is the most important thing I could possibly ask about today.

Zuckerberg: I don’t have a good answer. All I know is that we alone can fix it, in five to 10 years, using algorithms.

Senator 8: A dorm room, a plan, a canal! Facebook! I remember when I was young and all we had were wood-burning computers.

Zuckerberg: (Drinking a sixth glass of water) Senator, that is not technically possible.

But now, in the House.

Representative 1: Mr. Zuckerberg, I hear you started this company in your dorm room

Zuckerberg: Congressman, yes.

Representative 1: And now you spend your days in a darkened conference room reloading and reloading the page to see whether your elusive ex-girlfriend has ever accepted your friend request, isn’t that right?

Zuckerberg: Congressman, no.

Representative 2: (Haltingly) If I Snapchat a Vine to my son, does instant Graham see it?

Zuckerberg: Congressman, no.

Representative 3: My son says that everyone can see everything I upload onto Facebook, but I don’t want everyone to see it. I wanted only my friends to see it. But some of the people I am connected to on Facebook are not truly my friends.

Zuckerberg: I assure you, Facebook friends are real friends. In some ways, the social experiences you have on Facebook are more real than those you experience anywhere else.

Representative 4: My daughter said that if you don’t put tape over the camera on your laptop, Instagram will sell opioids to your child. Can you —

Zuckerberg: Uh.

Representative 4: My daughter said “Bloody Mary Bloody Mary Bloody Mary” into the little camera on her laptop, and now Facebook keeps sending her ads for Bloody Marys.

Zuckerberg: Well.

Representative 4: My son went to Drugs.com and bought a drug. Why won’t Facebook stop this?

Zuckerberg: It sounds like this is different, but I assure you we will solve it all with AI in five to 10 years.

Representative 5: I want to delete all my data from Facebook.

Zuckerberg: You can.

Representative 5: (Confused) No, I can’t.

Zuckerberg: I assure you, you can.

Representative 5: (Timidly) I can?

Zuckerberg: Yes.

Representative 5: But what about . . . the cloud?

Zuckerberg: (Blinks) What about the cloud?

Representative 5: (Nods sagely) Well, that answers my question. Good work, young man.

Representative 6: I have a Facebook profile, Mr. Zuckerberg. But when I click the thing, it goes away, but sometimes when I click it, it gets bigger. I don’t want it to be bigger.

Zuckerberg: I will have my team interface with you on that.

Congresswoman: Mr. Zuckerman, if an app obtains data about lots of users that they do not realize it has, and then sells that data, does Facebook become very upset?

Zuckerberg: Oh, yes, extremely upset! This is a breach of the most deep and fundamental kind. Facebook would never sell data.

Congresswoman: But if an app obtains data about lots of users that they did not realize it has, and just keeps that data to itself and uses it for its own purposes, does Facebook become upset?

Zuckerberg: (Baffled) No. Why would Facebook be upset?

Representative 7: I read once that you are selling our data and —

Zuckerberg: We are not literally selling it, just monetizing it. Completely different. We are mad at Cambridge Analytica because someone sold it to them.

Representative 7: You’re not selling it?

Zuckerberg: No.

Representative 7: It seems like you are making money off it though.

Zuckerberg: We sell ads.

Representative 7: I don’t know how to follow up on this

Zuckerberg: Our API is secure.

Representative 7: (Blank look) I hear you started this in your dorm room, young man?

Zuckerberg: Congressman, yes.

Chairman: Well, that is all our time. He seemed like he will be a lovely man when he grows up. Maybe by then every household will get its very own face book in the mail! In conclusion, this has been a good use of everyone’s time.