As experts in political discourse and facial displays – how scientists often refer to facial expressions – we have analyzed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s five-hour Senate hearing on April 10. We looked at what kinds of questions senators asked and how Zuckerberg answered them.
What matters most in this kind of analysis is determining whether a person’s facial expressions are appropriate for what is being stated and whether their muscular movements reliably reflect their intentions.
While an individual may be smiling, that expression doesn’t always mean they are happy. They could be expressing sarcasm or politeness, depending on the context.
These facial clues can help viewers figure out whether a speaker – Zuckerberg in this case – is saying what he means. Zuckerberg was reserved but not impenetrable. His facial displays, while slight and subtle, were revealing.
Zuckerberg began his hearing with the senators by indicating he was not excited to be there.
Sen. Chuck Grassley opened the joint session by welcoming the CEO. During Grassley’s statements, Zuckerberg pulled the corners of his lips downward, a muscular movement associated with an encounter with something unpleasant. Even without a verbal response, we can already see Zuckerberg’s displeasure at sitting in front of the committee.
Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, complimented Zuckerberg by calling attention to his success, rhetorically asking if it could happen “only in America.” When Zuckerberg tried to tell the senator that there are successful Chinese tech companies, Sullivan jokingly told Zuckerberg that he is “supposed to answer yes to this question.”
In response, Zuckerberg gave an amused smile and laughed. Sullivan and much of the joint committee and the audience laughed too.
When laughing, the corners of Zuckerberg’s lips were pulled up and at an angle, the muscles around his eyes were contracted, and his jaw dropped.