Comparing Mark Zuckerberg to Star Trek's Data is lazy, mean, and dangerous
For weeks now, we've been hearing about Cambridge Analytica and the horrifying amount of information Facebook allowed them to collect about millions of users without knowledge or consent. Appropriately, Mark Zuckerberg is now appearing before the Senate to explain the actions of his company and elaborate on steps to ensure this sort of thing will never be allowed to happen again. Like all hearings of this nature, the event is fairly scripted. There's little chance Zuck is going to say anything particularly new or interesting during these hearings, and the few members of Senate who truly understand what happened in this situation aren't going to do anything extreme as a form of punishment.
What we get instead of concrete immediate solutions to the problems within Facebook so many are now aware of is multiple days of cameras pointed directly at Mark Zuckerberg, a man not known for being particularly charismatic and more than a little awkward-sounding in most public environments. This brought back to life an old meme about Zuck being an inhuman robot, specifically an android like Data from Star Trek. A little tweak to the skin and eye color to introduce a little copper tone and a Starfleet uniform and Presto Change-O the guy running Facebook is not-so-secretly a robot.
Please don't do this. Your energy can be better spent in so many other ways.
The Better Android
While Zuckerberg most certainly has an awkward quality to him, he isn't Data. In fact, if you pay attention to the character in the show, he's just about as far from Data as one can get. Data routinely demonstrates a level of compassion for strangers that seems to elude Zuckerberg on a regular basis. When a problem arises Data will not hesitate to immediately put himself in between a dangerous situation his crewmates, where Zuckerberg vanished from public eye for days when the Cambridge Analytica story broke so he could be prepped by a crisis team.
But perhaps most important of all, Data would never feign ignorance or abdicate responsibility for something even if it wasn't explicitly his fault. He understood his role in his community as both a leader and an outcast and his entire crew loved him for it. Zuckerberg asked for a special pillow to make him seem taller in his chair during the hearing, and spent hours telling Senators that "his team" was working on solutions.
Mark Zuckerberg isn't Data. He isn't Lor either, for those eager to paint the man with a more sinister brush. He's an awkward CEO with an inability to take responsibility for his actions and the actions of those around him, instead offering examples of ways these problems won't be problems at some point in the future.
Petty Insults, Really?
The more egregious issue in comparing Mark Zuckerberg to Data is the intent. The entire world was just made aware of a massive effort to scrape Facebook for data belonging to millions of its users. The company directly responsible has a clear political mandate, as evidenced by its client list. Facebook users have been harvested and targeted with intent to influence your thoughts on politics, and it happened right here in the US. Not Russia, not China, right here because Facebook's system at the time made it very easy to do.
But hey, that Facebook guy sure does look weird, right? Let's make fun of how he looks because he was so careless with our data!
This man is sitting in front of the Senate, totally unable to directly answer questions like "Do you track people across the web even after they leave your app?' and that didn't seem to raise too many red flags. But mocking him for his appearance and mannerisms comes around as one of the stronger conversations of the day. We blame Facebook for "making" people mean and how negative the effects of living in an echo chamber of your own ideas can be, but then quickly turn to Facebook and Twitter with a mean photo of Zuckerberg to rake in those sweet, sweet social network points.
We Can, And Should, Do Better
There are a lot of ways we could be using this time, when so many people are paying attention to what is happening in these hearings right now, to be a force for good. Our phones have tools to restrict permissions, Facebook's app has its own set of settings surrounding data privacy, things like geotagging in photos and social networks can be controlled, and that's just a small portion of ways you could educate those around you. If you've really become fed up with the way Facebook is handling your data, you should take a serious look at how to export it all and delete your account.
Leave Data out of this. Take a look at how you can better protect yourself and help others around you protect themselves from the next Cambridge Analytica.
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Russell is a Contributing Editor at iMore. He's a passionate futurist whose trusty iPad mini is never far from reach. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Reach out on Twitter!