An activist group placed 100 life-size cutouts of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on the Capitol Hill lawn.
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On the third floor of the US Capitol building, in room S316, stands an artifact that’s disappeared from most people’s lives: a phone booth.
The phones — there’s a bank of five, in fact — aren’t part of a museum. The 20th century tools are still used by some reporters in the Senate Press Gallery.
They’re also one of the starkest reminders that Washington is out of pace with the Digital Age.
The other reminder is the senators themselves, who during a more than five-hour hearing with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday showed themselves to be woefully ignorant about the technology they use, and the industry that created it.
Phone booths at the Senate press gallery.
“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?” Sen. Orrin Hatch, an 84-year-old Republican from Utah, asked early on in the hearing.
Zuckerberg paused a moment before saying, “Senator, we run ads.” The response shot around the web and social spheres, and even inspired a T-shirt.
It was just one moment during the two-day marathon that Zuckerberg, Facebook’s 33-year-old multibillionaire CEO, spent testifying before Congress over data and privacy. At their core, the hearings were a chance for Zuckerberg to apologize, repeatedly, for a data leak three years ago created by an app developer reportedly selling the information of as many as 87 million Facebook users to a UK-based political consulting and data mining company called Cambridge Analytica.
It all added up to a major spectacle in the nation’s capital, filled with protesters, ridiculously long lines and even an army of life-size cardboard cutouts of Zuckerberg on the Capitol lawn.
Here’re a few things that caught our attention while attending the hearings.
Get your Zucks in a row
While Zuckerberg was getting ready Tuesday to testify at the Hart Senate building, activists had placed 100 Zuckerberg cutouts on the lawn of the Capitol just one block away. The cardboard Zucks wore emotionless expressions and T-shirts that read, “Fix Fakebook.”
Wandering through the cluster of cutouts felt like walking through a strange version of the Urban Light installation at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art — except the landscape was the world’s fifth richest man instead of street lights. It was as if the Facebook founder had been copied and pasted a hundred times over.
The army of cutouts was set up by the activist group Avaaz, which said it wants Facebook to ban all bots from the world’s largest social network and to do a better job dealing with fake news. That would include alerting users any time they’ve seen disinformation and reviewing the “scale and scope of fake news.”
Tourists and members of the media (including this reporter) milled around taking pictures.
Spider-Man, bunnies and Russian trolls
Not all Facebook protesters were made of cardboard. A few yards from the cutouts on the Capitol lawn, a group of about 15 people chanted “Zuckerberg, you’re absurd!” and “The internet is getting dark, and we owe it all to Mark!”
The protesters also held up signs saying “#PrivacyMatters.” Some wore Spider-Man and bunny costumes.
Even more characters attended Tuesday’s Senate hearing. Amanda Werner from Long Beach, California, came dressed as a Russian troll — fluorescent blue-and-green wig on her head, and a Russian flag wrapped scarf-like around her neck. If you looked closely, you might’ve recognized the 28-year-old Werner from an earlier escapade. She dressed like the Monopoly Man to photobomb former Equifax CEO Richard Smith during his Senate testimony in