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Mark Zuckerberg/ Flickr

The American post-war gen­er­a­tions gave a col­lective belly laugh last week when 84-year-old Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, asked Mark Zuckerberg with stark earnestness:

“If [a version of Facebook will always be free], how do you sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service?”

Mark Zuckerberg, with his voldemort-esque visage, responded: “Senator, we run ads.”

Then, he smirked. But that was early on in the course of a day’s grilling.

The absurdity con­tinued.

“How many data cat­e­gories do you store, does Facebook store, on the cat­e­gories that you collect?” Sen. Deb Fischer Rep. Nebraska asked. “How much? All of it? Every­thing we click on? Is that in storage some­where?”

Huh?

“From the moment that we wake up in the morning, until we go to bed, we’re on those handheld tablets,” Sen. Bill Nelson Dem. Florida said.

Yikes.

The videos went viral. Con­ver­sa­tions pro­lif­erated about the general igno­rance of our swamp-dwelling elected offi­cials. And incred­ulous laughter resounded just as it had in 2006, when Sen. Ted Stevens, Rep. Alaska asserted that “the internet is a series of tubes” in his argument against network neu­trality.

Zuckerberg was sup­posed to be fielding ques­tions about a data leak con­cerning over 87 million Facebook users to a British outfit, Cam­bridge Ana­lytica. Instead, Zuckerberg fielded ques­tions which could easily be explained in a com­munity college mar­keting 101 course.

But despite these blunders, the hearing put a mirror up to America and showed that these sen­ators have just as much knowledge of Facebook as the rest of us.

Though esti­mates vary, studies have shown that very few people read the fine print. A recent survey by Scoopshot, shows that 30 percent of people even open the terms and agree­ments page. A little over 17 percent of responders said they always read the page.

Not reading con­tracts is a bad habit. But we want what we want when we want it. And if a con­tract stands in the way, click around it.

Months back, Facebook news­feeds rippled with hushed rumors of facebook selling user infor­mation to mar­keting com­panies. The reaction was slack-jawed shock.

But in its terms of agreement, to which each user must assent, the company has hidden nothing. They clearly state that they may use all infor­mation they receive about you to serve ads that are more rel­evant to you. That infor­mation includes:

  1. Infor­mation pro­vided at reg­is­tration, or that is added to your account or timeline
  2. Things you share on Facebook, what you like, and inter­ac­tions with adver­tisers
  3. Key­words from your stories
  4. Things Facebook infers from your use of its website

And by clicking a single forest-green sign up button, two billion people, 1.4 billion of whom never even bothered to skim the agreement, sold them­selves over.

Sen. Hatch doesn’t seem so dumb now, does he?

The rest of the enlightened Gen-Xers, Mil­lenials, and Gen-Zers can feel superior. But that is only because they know how to use the software better. They can check where Facebook algo­rithms place them on the political spectrum and use adblock in an attempt to stem the effects of the infor­mation sale. But just like any user, they too believed (if only briefly) that Melania Trump had a body double that attended events for her.

They read articles titled “Pope Francis shocks world, endorses Donald Trump for pres­ident” and “ISIS leader calls for American Muslim voters to support Hillary Clinton.”

We were all duped. But we duped our­selves into trusting Facebook, a monolith that is too big and important to have our interests at heart.

Two months ago, Nicholas Thompson and Fred Vogel­stein of Wired.com pub­lished “Inside the two years that shook Facebook — and the world,” a nar­rative account about Zuckerberg’s appre­hension of fake news threats through the “Trending Topics” feature and how the media giant under­stands itself as an outlet for jour­nalism.

According to Thompson and Vogel­stein, after several leaks to Gizmodo con­cerning liberal bias within Facebook, the con­tracted employees with jour­nalism expe­rience who admin­is­tered Trending Topics were fired.

Facebook exec­u­tives then gave authority over the project to a team of engi­neers based in Seattle. With only an algo­rithm standing as sentry against the infection of fake news stories, Trending Topics became porous, allowing an article titled “Fox News Exposes Traitor Megyn Kelly, Kicks Her Out For Backing Hillary” just a few days later.

Because of this, Thompson and Vogel­stein suggest that Facebook’s true problem is a lack of jour­nalism expe­rience in the company.

Hiring more employees with jour­nalism expe­rience may help. But at its core, Facebook is a company which feeds on con­ve­nience, on instan­ta­neous infor­mation, and on adver­tisement.

Facebook users have not even realized the fun­da­mental structure of its business plan, and perhaps that indi­cates why many are so ready to trust it for news cov­erage.

Facebook draws the worst instincts of basic hunger and demand from its users. Waiting is not an option. Hit the forest-green Sign Up button. Do not read the fine print. Do not read the masthead. Scroll down to the meat. Trust blindly. Satisfy yourself. Click. Click. Click.

But what Thompson and Vogel­stein also under­stand is that many people receive news solely from stories shared on Facebook. These people receive infor­mation pri­marily through a company whose motive is to sell adver­tise­ments, not to produce credible news.

But Facebook can’t take blame for its own nature. It is a company. Com­panies make money by selling products. Com­panies are shaped by market forces. They are not shaped by a com­mitment to thorough, ethical reporting like major news outlets.

Facebook may have a fake news problem they need to solve, but it seems most of America has a Facebook problem. This population’s only contact with knowledge outside the rum­blings of everyday life is through a company that is not directly incen­tivized to tell the truth, one that will succeed whether the truth is printed on its web pages or not.

It may come as a sur­prise to some that many news outlets have a home page. Access is often granted by typing the name of the pub­li­cation and plopping a “.com” onto the end of it. The homepage of a pub­li­cation is a vital tool. It links you directly with the news.

The only arbiter of truth is the pub­li­cation itself, and most serious pub­li­ca­tions would fold if untruth was printed reg­u­larly. Find a pub­li­cation to trust and read its news. Save Facebook for cute dog videos and inspi­ra­tional quotes.

Sen. Hatch may need an ele­mentary com­puter class, but at least he is skep­tical. Everyone else needs to wake up from the Facebook daze.

Mark Naida is a Senior studying French and English