Newswise — Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has the opportunity to restore trust among the social network’s users at hearings this week on Capitol Hill, but he also risks driving more away, say Virginia Tech policy and digital media experts.

“The hearings will be good cues for the public to continue to trust that Facebook is acting in their interests, or they may cause people to pull away from the Facebook if public perception is that Facebook is not very concerned with privacy,” says Virginia Tech’s Mike Horning, assistant professor of multimedia journalism. “People may look to other social networks that offer more information security.”

Horning’s research suggests that the public does not necessarily want government to regulate it. “Social media companies are a place where news and free speech happens, and the public seems to be sensitive to government intervention there. So on the one hand, it may be in Facebook's best interests to police themselves. At the same time, as these companies continue to play loose with user data, they may face increasing pressure for outside regulation.”

Virginia Tech’s Katherine Haenschen, an assistant professor whose research focuses on the intersection of political participation and digital media, points out that Zuckerberg heads to Capitol Hill in the same week that Facebook is taking necessary strides towards greater transparency and access for academic researchers.

“In terms of advertising transparency, Facebook announced that political ads would be labeled as such, with the payee disclosed at the top of the ad. They also made some important steps in terms of verifying advertisers and page administrators,” she said.

“On the academic front, they are opening up the platform to greater collaboration with researchers, without any right to review or approve results. This is an important step towards greater transparency and access to researchers to understand the social impacts of the platform.”

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