On Wednesday, the House Financial Services Committee questioned Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about his company’s operations. The legislative body officially called the executive to Capitol Hill to testify about the social network’s Libra cryptocurrency project. However, lawmakers expanded the session to cover the company’s controversial data handling practices, advertising policies, and transition to encrypted messaging.
Legislative Concerns About Libra
During Zuckerberg’s six-hour interrogation several members of Congress expressed serious concerns regarding the firm’s cryptocurrency project. Early on, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) told Zuckerberg, “In order for us to make decisions about Libra, we have to dig into Facebook’s past behavior in respect to democracy.”
Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) said that the firm should stop work on Libra until it addresses the “deficiencies” in its core business.
In response, Zuckerberg admitted that his company has had a “challenging few years.” Indeed, Facebook has paid a $5 billion fine to the Federal Trade Commission for mishandling user data; it is being investigated for antitrust violations by the U.S. Department of Justice and 47 state attorneys general; and has faced criticism for spreading misinformation.
Nevertheless, the CEO came prepared to defend his company’s digital coin. The billionaire claimed that the project will help reduce income inequality in the United States by providing financial services to 14 million Americans who don’t have bank accounts. He also noted that Libra would allow U.S. residents to send remittances to other countries quickly, securely, and cheaply.
Zuckerberg also believes that the dollar-backed cryptocurrency will help the United States maintain its status as a financial superpower.
Notably, he said that Facebook would leave the Libra Association if its product didn’t receive approval from U.S. regulators.
Furthermore, the founder also explained how the digital coin would bolster the social network’s revenues. Zuckerberg said that Libra would make Facebook a seamless global marketplace, thus making it more appealing to advertisers. In Q2 2019, the corporation generated $16.6 billion in revenue from its ad business.
Notably, the executive could not answer direct questions regarding how the cryptocurrency would function. He also didn’t say if Libra transactions would be refundable or anonymous. Instead, Zuckerberg said that the project’s oversight committee is still working out those issues.
Political Ads and Fact-Checking
At one point in the hearing, Zuckerberg had a particularly tense exchange with Representative Ocasio-Cortez regarding Facebook’s political advertising policies. The Congresswoman asked the executive if, since the platform has announced that it won’t fact-check political advertisements, it will host content made to deceive minority voters regarding election dates.
Zuckerberg said that the social network will not do that as it has policies barring ads that induce voter suppression. Ocasio-Cortez pointed out that the firm’s policies contradict themselves since it does fact-check some content. She then asked if she could run a marketing campaign that spread falsehoods about her political opponents’ voting records. The executive said he didn’t know if Facebook would host such an ad.
completely befuddled. pic.twitter.com/n0RjyZZvQ1
— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) October 23, 2019
Zuckerberg also told the Congresswoman that the social network would take down fabricated statements made by politicians depending on their context. The executive notably did not answer questions about his recent meeting with right-wing figures regarding Facebook’s alleged bias against conservatives. He also offered no direct reply when asked if white supremacist publications meet the platform’s credibility standards.
While Representative Ocasio-Cortez was very negative about Facebook’s hands-off content policy, the executive did receive support from one Republican policymaker. In the hearing, Representative Andy Barr (R-KY) said that Facebook shouldn’t be held accountable for fact-checking its users. He also advised Zuckerberg to resist attempts by politicians to censor politically incorrect speech.
Sexual Exploitation and Encryption
Representative Anne Wagner (R-MO) said the Department of Justice found that 16.8 million of the 18.4 million worldwide reports of child sexual abuse material came from Facebook. She also noted that 74 percent of the firm’s reporting to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children would be lost if the firm implemented end-to-end encryption. As such, the Congresswoman asked Zuckerberg would what happen to the affected children if his firm pivots to encrypted messaging.
Initially, the executive tried to spin the question by positioning Facebook’s high reporting numbers as evidence of its efforts to crack down on sexual abuse. However, Wagner brushed those statements aside and asked the CEO what his firm is doing to stop sexual exploitation. Zuckerberg replied that Facebook is working with law enforcement to find new technological solutions.
The Congresswoman found the executive’s statements lacking and cut him off mid-answer. “Well, you’re not working hard enough, sir. And end-to-end encryption is not going to help the problem.”