Beginning today, Mark Zuckerberg begins his potentially historic appearances before Congress. Under different circumstances, it would probably be an honor to be called before top lawmakers in the land. But, certainly not today.
Zuckerberg will first appear before a joint hearing led by Senate Committee on the Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) It is titled, “Facebook, Social Media Privacy, and the Use and Abuse of Data.”
After the Republican hosted Senate hearing, Zuckerberg will then not just appear but testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, a bi-partisan session led by E&C Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) and Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ). The House’s version of the hearing is slightly more Facebook friendly, entitled “Facebook: Transparency and Use of Consumer Data.”
There is definite irony that political gain is at the heart of the issue in both the root of the scandal and these hearings. In any event, the public (maybe) wants a face, and Zuckerberg is giving the elected officials and the throngs of reporters that will watch the live streams of the hearings, a face.
The now 33 year old CEO of Facebook is no stranger to the spotlight in some ways (he had a book about his life come out when he was just 25), but he has thus far followed in Jeff Bezos’s footsteps — his name is widely known, but far less is known about him. Zuckerberg’s passion and belief in the mission of Facebook will either be the saving grace or give the regulators something to focus on in an era where there are far more pressing dangers than Cambridge Analytica.
My wife, an Ivy League educated lawyer and mother to our almost five-year old twins, uses Facebook as a primary channel for digital consumption. I asked her whether her network was up in arms and all abuzz over Mark Zuckerberg testifying. She knew about it but not from her network on Facebook. It was from her husband assuming that her network must have given up posting details personal and profane to talk about this. One interpretation — the bar is really high for people to really care about the cost of using free services so long as it doesn’t feel like direct harm is happening. I don’t enjoy political ads, but it’s hard to actually feel as though I might have seen more of them as a result of the current scandal. (Then again, based on where I live I probably didn’t.) But, were I a politician, I could see getting really upset about this.
Where does Disney come in? Even with more than 2 billion monthly active users, I would argue users don’t actually love Facebook, and as a result of or vice versa, its CEO. Facebook helps you stay in touch with and up to date on those you love and those you long to be with or be like. You love the photos on Instagram. You love how it can make you seem and what it can make you see. You don’t love Facebook or Instagram, though. You use Facebook and Instagram. You love someone else.
All of this is why, despite the near ubiquity of platform he founded and now leads, the hearing room won’t be full of “Thank You’s” to Mark and congratulations on what he has achieved.
But if Disney were there though… do you think the questions would be as tough, the tone so (presumably) combative?
Disney as a person made millions, and the firm bearing his name now makes billions, from hooking users even earlier than Facebook does; his legacy will be hard to top even though he did not take the 1% pledge and who was in many ways not himself anywhere near as good of a human being as Mark aspires to be. Even the mere mention that Disney (the person) was flawed creates the type of cognitive dissonance that is hard to reconcile. That is the power of love.
So where in all this does Netflix fit? The prosaic answer is content. The business answer is the power of distribution plus content together. It is also being able to connect people and shared experiences in ways like never before. It is digital vertical integration in the vein of Amazon.
The real answer though is love. People love characters. People love stories. People don’t love non-exclusive delivery channels of the things love. They need them, but they don’t love them.