Mark Zuckerberg’s Congressional Testimony is a Warning Call to Nonprofits

Apr. 16, 2018

Jordan Haberfield

As data privacy concerns have taken the forefront in tech news lately, no company has been under the microscope more than Facebook and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg. Technology firms, especially those in the social media space, have avoided any sort of government regulation to-date.

Sure, there’s been a lot to chuckle about for the past few days. Was Mark’s tie a clip-on? Did any of the congressmen and women understand the basics of how Facebook works or their business model? – because most of their questions didn’t seem to suggest it.

While a lot of the attention has been on political ads and their effect on consumers, nonprofit organizations that utilize social media platforms to fundraise and advance their cause should pay attention to what is happening in Congress.

The most recent changes to Facebook algorithms that will drive more engaging connections and discussions will most certainly affect the way all companies, including nonprofits, interact with their base customers or donors. Digital business models will change and potentially create more meaningful connections with consumers.

In addition, the new Social Data Initiative will lead to more shared information from Facebook that is controlled by researchers without interference from Facebook, who merely provides data. You can read more about the Social Data Initiative here.

Here comes the ‘invisible hand’ and the possibility of federal oversight. What will this mean for nonprofits and their digital plans? This could take many directions around monitoring data and content and could become a slippery slope to partisan interference and unwarranted control. While only time will tell if the federal government plans to enact tighter controls on social media data everyone should be wary of how this pattern could move to other social media platforms and their data control.

There is no doubt that certain advertisements, such as those regarding terror, hate speech, etc. need to be blocked. There is also no doubt that social media firms need to step-up their efforts to protect data from intrusions like that from Cambridge Analytica. But can’t we trust that social media giants will learn without Big Brother stepping in to manage the process? If the level of questioning of Mark Zuckerberg at the hearings was any sign of government’s understanding of social media, then they better stay far away.

A lot of great steps have been taken in recent months to allow nonprofit organizations to build stronger connections with their donor base through social media platforms. There have also been significant strides to securely open data to drive needed research without interference from the social platform. Let’s not allow these advances to slow down or end due to government interference. Let’s continue to pressure these firms to protect our data from outside threats and also push for access where appropriate.