During the hearings with Facebook and Google CEOs, it seems that Senators don't have much knowledge about the basic functionality of social media.

I’m wondering if Senators are briefed about the topic of hearings beforehand and if they get assistance preparing for their questions? If so, why they unclear about the functionality of social media?

If they are not well-versed in a particular subject, such as technology, how can they introduce legislation in that area in the future?


Senators are not particularly familiar in the area of technology. As it is a hearing, Senators are free to ask queries they want to clarify. In this case, they do not understand how Facebook works and were clarifying that part.

Secondly, Senators do prepare for hearings behind the scenes, but it is not known if they were briefed for this one. But even if they do, they won’t be able to understand everything if they don’t use social media on a daily basis.

Committee members and staff usually plan extensively for hearings. Early planning activities commonly include collecting background information; preparing a preliminary hearing memorandum for the chair and members; discussing the scope of the hearing and the expected outcome; scheduling and providing public notice of a hearing; selecting witnesses; determining the order and format of their testimony; and preparing questions or talking points for committee members to use in questioning witnesses.

Source: https://www.everycrsreport.com/reports/RL30548.html

Next, when they eventually start to legislate social media – that's a different question. Senators get a lot of help when they write bills, so they would be able to make regulations even if they personally do not understand how social media works.

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    To add to this: Most senators and other senior political figures are in a position where they have assistants to take care of any "computer stuff" and probably have been for a long time, so their interactions with modern tech are minimal unless they are personally interested. – Cyrus Dec 14 '18 at 12:31
  • To expand on Cyrus' comment; they may well have had a briefing, but gained only a very superficial understanding because they had no experience to hang it on. I recall trying to explain to may parents back in 1993 what the Web was, and the nearest they could come to it was "its like a Fax, then?" No amount of briefing can get you past this basic comprehension gap. – Paul Johnson Dec 14 '18 at 13:56
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    Downvoted because of the age bias. Being 61, or even older, is no bar to understanding technology: who do you think developed it in the first place? You'd find a parallel, though different, lack of technical understanding in many younger people: they may use devices, but they're just magic boxes. – jamesqf Dec 14 '18 at 18:19
  1. The same reason most senators don't understand nuclear physics, or medicine, or farming. Because nobody understands everything, even the best educated and brightest people. Do you understand law? (assuming you're not a lawyer)?

    For that matter do you understand both how to optimize Sybase queries and to debug Perl scripts? I mean, you're (based on your SE profile) a computer science person.

    Whether you like it or not, the main qualification to be a Senator is to be able to win elections. In depth understanding of technology isn't a requirement for that - in depth understanding of people is.

  2. You may find it strange but there are many people in this universe - especially older ones - who never used Facebook. So even if they are briefed, they would have no conceptual basis to get a proper understanding.

    Ironically, after reading questions (such as yesterday's one about Google hearings) it is clear that many supposedly computer literate people have very little understanding of technology (like criticizing a congressperson for asking Google software questions while holding an iPhone, despite 70%+ iPhones having Google Maps installed).

  3. Additionally, you don't seem to get the main point of these hearings.

    The point isn't to get an accurate answer from CEO to a Senator. Those hearings are the most useless avenue for that goal possible. To get a correct answer, a Senator or their staffers will ask a hired expert. CEO of Google isn't going to give them a true answer in a public hearing - they will give whatever rehearsed information-free answer sounds best for the company's party line while keeping CEO out of legal jeopardy if they are testifying under oath.

    As such, the purpose of those questions in hearings is mostly to score political points for the Senator. Technical accuracy of the question isn't very meaningful for that goal.

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    You also have to understand that USING Facebook, or Twitter, Instagram, or whatever, isn't tech. They're designed to be used by the lowest common denominator. (I mean, if someone like Trump can tweet, how hard can it be?) Designing those things is tech - and honestly, I think a lot of us who do the tech have better things to do with our free time :-) – jamesqf Dec 14 '18 at 18:25
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    Regarding your third point - hearings aren't just to score points, though that is the main purpose for the lawmakers. They are also to force people to put things into the public record under threat of perjury. That's why they can be powerful tools - they are a way for people who represent us to ensure that we have some evidence to point to when organizations (whether private or public) do wrong things. – David Rice Dec 14 '18 at 19:31
  • @jamesqf - I can't Tweet, no joke. slinks back to my stone cave to use my Palm Pilot – user4012 Dec 15 '18 at 12:59
  • @DavidRice - true (I kinda alluded to that in " if they are testifying under oath" part but didn't think it's worth explicitly mentioning. Did either of the 2 CEOs testify under oath?). – user4012 Dec 15 '18 at 13:00
  • @user4012: It's not that I can't tweet, it's just that I have absolutely no desire to do so, because that would make me a twit. (That is, per Urban Dictionary, "The kind of person that makes a retarded chimp look smart.": urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=twit ) – jamesqf Dec 16 '18 at 1:17

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