• Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos started to answer a lawmaker’s question at Wednesday’s tech antitrust hearing – only to be told that he had to unmute his microphone.
  • “Mr. Bezos, I believe you’re on mute,” one lawmaker can be heard saying.
  • Bezos, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai were all allowed to participate in the hearing remotely, due to the pandemic.
  • It was a standout moment in the hearing and a sign of the times, as a powerful tech exec struggled with the same everyday annoyance as countless others during the current period of remote office work.
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Wednesday was a historic day for the tech industry – the CEOs of the sector’s most powerful companies were grilled in front of Congress over antitrust concerns.

The virtual nature of the hearing, however, meant that the executives attending remotely ran into some of the common pitfalls of modern remote work – including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who at one point had to be reminded by lawmakers to unmute his microphone.

Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL), asked all four leaders if they believe the Chinese government has stolen from American technology firms in the past. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg replied that he thinks such theft is “well-documented,” before Bezos chimed in with his answer – except that he started speaking with the mute button on.

“You’re on mute,” Stuebe said.

“Mr. Bezos, I believe you’re on mute,” said another lawmaker. Bezos unmuted, apologized, and proceeded to respond to the question. You can watch the clip, posted by a Twitter user, below.

The exchange was a surreal moment as the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing protocols allowed for Google and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Zuckerberg, and Bezos to dial in virtually to deliver their testimonies at the hearing. Representatives of the House Judiciary’s antitrust subcommittee were stationed in-person at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington DC to grill the four execs over business practices that they say might give them an unfair advantage in the marketplace.

So far, the hearing hasn’t generated the same kind of viral memes as previous Congressional tech hearings – remember when Zuckerberg faced-off with Congress in 2018? – but some viewers online took notice of the moment.

It wasn’t the only noteworthy example of how technology played a role in the hearing. The event was paused at one point so one of the four witnesses’ video connection could be fixed. And Rep. David Cicilline’s swearing-in of the CEOs was also telling, when he asked the witnesses to “unmute your microphone, and raise your right hand.”