Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg Faces Intense Scrutiny From Congress

Facebook’s CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg experienced an uncomfortable time when he appeared before the US House of Representatives Financial Services Committee.

Zuckerberg was there to answer questions about the proposed Libra digital currency, but spent an uncomfortable period when aggressively questioned about election interference, free speech, hate groups and fake news.

Facebook’s controversial Libra cryptocurrency project is experiencing intense scrutiny from regulators and banks, and the firm recently said it was “open to alternative approaches.

Libra concerns

The project has been criticised by France, the Bank of England, and the US Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell, as well as others.

It was clear Zuckerberg’s appearance before Financial Services Committee was not going to be easy ride for the Facebook CEO.

Democrat congresswoman Maxine Waters, chair of the committee, quizzed Zuckerberg on Facebook’s steps to combat misinformation and voter suppression ahead of the November 2020 US presidential election, Reuters reported.

She also suggested policymakers should consider breaking up Facebook, something Senator and presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren has also called for.

She has also previously called for the halt of the Libra project before its planned 2020 launch, and has drafted legislation that would bar tech companies from entering financial services.

“It would be beneficial for all if Facebook concentrates on addressing its many existing deficiencies and failures before proceeding any further on the Libra project,” Waters reportedly told Zuckerberg.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers also reportedly criticised Facebook for failing to crack down on online child exploitation and political misinformation, and for data privacy lapses. Several said they did not trust Facebook to help provide financial services to its 2.4 billion users given the past scandals.

“Facebook’s internal model was for a long time was ‘Move fast and break things.’ Mr. Zuckerberg, we do not want to break the international monetary system,” Representative Nydia Velazquez, a Democrat was quoted as saying.

Risky business

Zuckerberg said Facebook would insist on US regulatory approval before launching Libra.

Republican congresswoman Ann Wagner, reportedly pressed Zuckerberg on why so many companies abandoned the Libra effort.

Five major payments providers pulling out of the currency, after Mastercard, Visa and eBay recently withdrew from the Libra Association, as well as fintech start-up Stripe and payments firm Mercado Pago.

The move follows PayPal’s exit from the association, and leaves the project without the backing of any major payments firms.

“You’ve lost these stable partners and I find it highly concerning,” she said. “Why do a number of these founding members have concerns of whether you’re up to the task of meeting our money laundering and regulatory standards?”

Zuckerberg responded and he conceded that those companies dropped out because Libra is a “risky project” and that he was not sure it would even work.

Zuckerberg also faced intense questioning from Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, firstly over Cambridge Analytical and how soon he and his management team became aware of its activities.

She then moved on to question Facebook’s fact checking on political adverts, and whether adverts with misleading or false information on them would be permitted on the social networking platform.

She then also questioned Zuckerberg about lunches he attended with far right groups, and what was discussed at those meetings.

Zuckerberg did not perform well in response to this questioning, and was unable to confirm if hate speech from candidates running for office in 2020 would be taken off the platform.

Quiz: Think you know all about Facebook?

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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