Congress shows Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg no mercy during Libra hearing

Lawmakers on the House Financial Services Committee grilled Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg over the platform’s proposed Libra cryptocurrency and the social media giant’s practices as a whole during a wide-ranging hearing on Wednesday morning, October 23. 

Zuckerberg answered questions about both the company’s questionable past and the new Libra idea alike, assuring the committee that he would follow the rules before Facebook got into any type of cryptocurrency involvement. 

“If at the end of the day we don’t receive the clearances, we will not be a part of the [Libra] association,” Zuckerberg said. 

Zuckerberg even admitted himself that the Libra project is complex, saying that he thinks that some of the bigger initial partners like Visa, Paypal, and Mastercard that have since pulled out have done so because of the risks. 

“This project is too big for any one company to do on its own,” he said. “It’s a risky project.”

But much of the hearing was a criticism of not only Libra and the concerns Congress has related to privacy, trading risks, and national security, but also on Zuckerberg himself and the power he has as a tech titan. 

Mark Zuckerberg Testifies Before Congress
Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Financial Services Committee. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

“Perhaps you believe you’re above the law,” Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) said in her opening statements. “You have opened up a serious discussion about whether Facebook should be broke up.”

Both Republicans and Democrats grilled Zuckerberg over why the government and Facebook users should trust the social media giant to create a cryptocurrency given its rocky past with privacy violations. 

“Facebook changes its rules when it can benefit itself,” Waters added. “You shifted your stance [on cryptocurrency] because you realized you can utilize your size and your users data for cryptocurrency.” 

In a July meeting about Libra, congressman Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) compared Libra technology to 9/11 in terms of being a terrorism threat. In Tuesday’s hearing, Sherman referred to Libra as the “Zuck buck.” 

“You’re going to be making powerful burglary tools and let your business partners commit the burglary,” he said. “Cryptocurrency is the currency of the crypto patriot.” 

Many members of the committee criticized the Libra Association being based in Switzerland rather than in the U.S.

“It’s difficult for me to get on board with something so big being in another country, and I implore you to consider perhaps bringing this home and keep this in America,” said Rep. Lance Gooden (R-TX).

Zuckerberg said while the Libra Association is located in Switzerland, the platforms and products being built are primarily American and that Libra would be primarily American dollars. 

“If you’re going to try to build a global payment system, I think there’s some value in housing the independent association in the country where a lot of international systems are in,” Zuckerberg said. “No matter where we’re working around the world, we’re gonna follow U.S. regulations.”

Zuckerberg was also questioned on vaccination content on the platform, deepfake technology, sexual abuse content on Facebook, the 2016 election interference, fact-checking, and political ads.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), took time to point out the loopholes in Facebook’s stance on not fact-checking political ads. She gave Zuckerberg a hypothetical scenario, asking if she could theoretically run an ad on Facebook targeted at registered Republicans saying that they voted for the Green New Deal since there is no fact-checking for politicians’ ads, to which Zuckerberg replied that he didn’t know off the top of his head. 

“Do you see a problem here with a complete lack of fact-checking on political advertisements?” Ocasio-Cortez asked. 

Facebook’s rocky past includes the Cambridge Analytica scandal and a $5 billion settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was also brought up multiple times, painting a picture that Zuckerberg and Facebook can’t be trusted.

“Facebook has been systematically found at the scene of the crime,” said Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY). 

“You’ve proven we cannot trust you with our emails, our phone numbers, so why should we trust you with our hard-earned money,” said Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA).

Zuckerberg acknowledged that Facebook has a lot to clean up in terms of its record over the past few years. 

“I understand we’re not the ideal messenger right now. We’ve faced a lot of issues over the past few years, and I’m sure people wish it was anyone but Facebook putting this idea forward,” he said in his testimony.

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