Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, on Facebook's impact on the financial services and housing sectors. Photo: AP

CAPE TOWN – One congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who grilled Mark Zuckerberg during his testimony to Congress, applied an unconventional method to source for questions to ask the Facebook chief. 

In conducting her research, she crowd-sourced her questions on Twitter, which enabled her to ask questions that got Zuckerberg hot under the collar. 

Mark was appearing before Congress to account about the development of the Libra cryptocurrency and other matters related to Facebook. 

Her questions demonstrated that she had a clear understanding of tech matters, such as the Facebook advertising platform.

“Would I be able to run advertisements on Facebook targeting Republicans in primaries saying that they voted for the Green New Deal? I mean, if you're not fact-checking political advertisements, I’m just trying to understand the bounds here, what’s fair game?” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez asked.

Zuckerberg answered: “Congresswoman, I don’t know the answer to that off the top of my head, I think probably.” 

The answer to this question is critical to understand the influence of the social network giant and its impact on society. The understanding of these matters by lawmakers is also important in order to develop laws that can safeguard society from digital harm.

Previously, appearing before Congress was a walk in the park for Zuckerberg and other tech leaders.

Most lawmakers lacked understanding of intricate technology matters and therefore their questions allowed tech leaders to get off the hook. 

This is a major issue facing society today. 

The fact that there's an assumption that there are guardians of democracy and yet most of them lack the technical knowledge to ensure that those who do wrong are held to account.

This is a greater challenge on the African continent, where most lawmakers lack technology understanding. It is, therefore, no surprise that not a single global technology company has been called to account for abuse of personal data within the African continent. 

Obviously, there are other reasons why this has been the case, and one of them is related to the lack of technology understanding by lawmakers.

The new breed of lawmakers such as Ocasio-Cortez, who is young and has a good understanding of technology, is bringing more accountability to technology firms. 

Future technology advancements will mean greater strides forward for society. They will enable digital inclusion, better health care and possibly better security. They will also violate rights and lead to abuse. 

Understanding this fact should lead society to realise that if the technology is to deliver benefits and limit risks associated with advancement, young lawmakers with technology understanding are necessary. 

In the meantime, efforts to educate lawmakers about technology are required urgently. 

Failure to assist lawmakers with digital literacy and understanding will lead to further damage to the fabric of society by technology. 

One lawmaker, Roger Williams, asked Zuckerberg: “Are you a capitalist or a socialist?” and he answered: “I’m a capitalist.” 

Capitalist tech leaders will need lawmakers with an understanding of technology to avoid the negative impact of tech capitalism.

Wesley Diphoko is the Publisher of The Infonomist and chairperson of the IEEE Open Data Initiative. You can follow him on Twitter: @WesleyDiphoko

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