POLITICS

Lawmakers Grill Zuckerberg At Hearing About Proposed 'Libra' Digital Currency

One congressman accused the Facebook CEO of "hiding behind the poorest people in the world."

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday in defense of a proposed digital currency called Libra that he would like regulators to sign off on.

It went about as well for Zuckerberg as can be expected, given many lawmakers’ extreme lack of trust in Facebook.

Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) established the mood of the hearing early on, detailing Facebook’s many high-level failures, including how it enables discriminatory housing practices, stifles competition, has repeatedly failed to safeguard consumer privacy, permitted foreign governments to interfere in elections, and willfully allowed politicians to lie on the platform.

“With all of these problems I have outlined, and given the company’s size and reach, it should be clear why we have serious concerns about your plans to establish a global digital currency that would challenge the U.S. dollar,” Waters told Zuckerberg.

“In fact, you have opened up a serious discussion about whether Facebook should be broken up.”

Zuckerberg countered by first acknowledging that Facebook has indeed made mistakes, and then warning that America risks falling behind if it doesn’t move forward on digital currency adoption.   

“While we debate these issues, the rest of the world isn’t waiting,” Zuckerberg cautioned in his prepared remarks. “If America doesn’t innovate, our financial leadership is not guaranteed.”

Zuckerberg also pushed Libra as a means to promote financial inclusion and increase access to banking systems for historically underbanked populations, like minorities and women.

That claim didn’t sit well with Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) who grilled the CEO for failing to support underbanked populations through more conventional and already existing systems like Minority Depository Institutions

“Words are different than actions, sir,” Meeks said. “If you’re concerned about the underbanked and unbanked, how much of Facebook’s money is in MDIs ― that would provide services and help the unbanked and underbanked? Have you invested in any of the MDIs in America or any place else in the world?”

Zuckerberg conceded he wasn’t sure.

The back and forth provided an opening for Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) to later accuse Facebook of wanting to build an encrypted financial instrument that will mainly be “great for tax evaders, drug dealers and terrorists.”

“Mr. Meeks called your bluff on this idea that you’re creating a payment system for the poor and unbanked,” the congressman said. “You’ve done no effort to help the unbanked anywhere else, at any other time.”

Sherman, who didn’t ask a single question in his allotted time, closed with a shot at Zuckerberg, whom he accused of being dishonest about his true intentions. 

“For the richest man in the world to come here and hide behind the poorest people in the world, and say that’s who you’re really trying to help ...” Sherman said. “You’re trying to help those for whom the dollar is not a good currency: drug dealers, terrorists, tax evaders.”

Other representatives strayed from the topic at hand, pressing Zuckerberg on other critical issues like sex trafficking on the site, and backsliding on core civil rights issues like redlining which are exacerbated by advertising bias.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) focused on Facebook’s refusal to fact check lies made by politicians, asking Zuckerberg to clarify how the platform regulates political behavior, given that politicians are allowed to “spread disinformation” in their paid Facebook advertisements.

Zuckerberg affirmed that Facebook would remove any ad that deliberately advertises the wrong election date, as well as content that calls for violence, advocates physical harm, or would result in voter or census suppression.

But he drew a blank when Ocasio-Cortez asked if, hypothetically, it would be OK for her to run ads targeting Republicans by falsely claiming they voted for the Green New Deal.

“Do you see a potential problem here with the complete lack of fact checking on political advertisements?” she asked.

“Well congresswoman, I think lying is bad, and I think if you were to run an ad that had a lie, that would bad,” Zuckerberg replied.

This story has been updated with Ocasio-Cortez’s questions.

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