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Illustration: Sarah Grillo / Axios

Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday morphed from a shy tech nerd into a confident business executive who ran circles around lawmakers.

Why it matters: Zuckerberg's performance stoked investor confidence and made it less likely that this Congress will stringently regulate tech giants like Facebook.

Zuckerberg was well prepared, but he also benefited from redundant questioning that rarely included smart follow-ups.

  • Many senators either tried to clumsily show off for the cameras, blatantly suck up to Zuckerberg, or ask long, cringe-worthy questions that sounded like grandparents checking out their first flip phone.
  • Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), for example, didn't seem to understand what it meant for Facebook's messaging app, Whatsapp, to be encrypted.
  • Senator after senator asked about Facebook "selling data," allowing Zuckerberg to run time off the clock by repeatedly explaining that its business model doesn't technically work that way.
  • While Zuckerberg explained some of his own perspectives — such as denying that Facebook is a monopoly and accepting responsibility for content on its platform — he mostly sidestepped sticky situations by calmly offering to have his "team" follow up with details at a later time.

By the end, some lawmakers were making jokes and asking Zuckerberg for his help. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) even asked if Zuckerberg would help build more rural fiber cable to service her constituency.

  • Zuckerberg also benefited from what happened outside the chamber, with the Trump vs. Mueller battle royale sucking up an enormous amount of D.C. media oxygen.
  • The only exception was Fox News, which often framed the Facebook issue as more about censorship of conservative voices than about privacy. That might get Trump's attention, but also could force Democrats into the unlikely role of Facebook defenders.

Bottom line: Congress might adopt some minor regulations on political advertising, but the idea of this group of senators regulating digital data right now seems far-fetched. The danger to Facebook and others isn’t quick cuts — it’s a long, slow bleed that forces Congress into action after some future data-breach or platform-manipulation crisis. 

Zuckerberg and Facebook won by default, or forfeit. 

Go deeper

Virginia lawmakers vote to legalize marijuana in 2024

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam. Photo: Alex Edelman/Getty Images

Lawmakers in Virginia on Saturday approved compromise legislation that would legalize marijuana in 2024, putting the state a step closer to becoming the first in the South to end prohibition on the drug, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports.

Why it matters: The legislation will make Virginia the 16th state to legalize marijuana, per Politico. It would add to a slate of laws that have seen Virginia move in a more progressive direction during the tenure of Gov. Ralph Northam.

Scammers seize on COVID confusion

Data: FTC; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

Scamming has skyrocketed in the past year, and much of the increase is attributed to COVID-related scams, more recently around vaccines.

Why it matters: The pandemic has created a prime opportunity for scammers to target people who are already confused about the chaotic rollouts of things like stimulus payments, loans, contact tracing and vaccines. Data shows that older people who aren't digitally literate are the most vulnerable.

14 hours ago - Health

FDA authorizes Johnson & Johnson's one-shot COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use

Photo: Illustration by Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Food and Drug Administration on Saturday issued an emergency use authorization for Johnson & Johnson's one-shot coronavirus vaccine.

Why it matters: The authorization of a third coronavirus vaccine in the U.S. will help speed up the vaccine rollout across the country, especially since the J&J shot only requires one dose as opposed to Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech's two-shot vaccines.