The hearing is on a recess right now as members head to the House floor for a vote. Stay tuned …
The hearings are diverging from the topic of Libra and cryptocurrencies as many Congress members take the rare opportunity to question Zuckerberg on the Hill about other issues.
Rashida Tlaib says she is speaking to Zuckerberg both as a Congresswoman and “as the mother raising two Muslim boys during what is a pretty dark time in our world” and asks why he is letting hate groups use Facebook events pages to organize.
“I think we could do more and do a better job here,” Zuckerberg said. “We aren’t perfect, and we make a lot of mistakes.”
Republican congressman Ted Budd of North Carolina takes his time on the floor to note that Libra is not technically a cryptocurrency, but a stablecoin, meaning it is not independently built on its own technology like Bitcoin and Ethereum but is tied to existing currencies like the dollar. He asks how Zuckerberg plans to allow regulation of the currency.
“If we’re to remain a world leader in financial technology, it’s vital that we don’t embrace reactionary laws against cryptocurrencies.”
Congresswoman Joyce Beatty of Ohio comes out swinging at Zuckerberg, grilling him for Facebook’s failure to prioritize diversity at the company.
She noted Zuckerberg has $46bn in cash or cash equivalent and asks if any of this is managed by diversity-owned companies. Zuckerberg struggles to answer.
“I’ll take that as a no,” she said.
Beatty takes Zuckerberg, who invoked the civil rights movement in his defense of Facebook last week, to task for coopting the struggle of black Americans.
“It’s almost like you think this is a joke,” she said. “This is appalling and disgusting to me.”
Republican compares Zuckerberg to Trump: ‘You both challenge the status quo’
Republican representative Barry Loudermilk appears to compliment Zuckerberg by comparing him to Trump.
“You’re both very successful businessmen, you’re both capitalists, you’re both billionaires, and you’ve done very well,” he said. “But I think really what you share in common is you both challenge the status quo – he calls it draining the swamp, you see it as innovation.”
Congressmen love capitalism, it turns out!
While many members of the committee sought to grill Zuckerberg today, in the line of questioning from Roger Williams of Texas and French Hill of Arkansas, the congressmen congratulated Zuckerberg for his efforts to innovate.
“I congratulate you, like so many of my colleagues, on the extraordinary investment and entrepreneurial success of creating Facebook,” Hill said. “I do admire people in our capitalist system here that are disruptors – that find the weakness and try to exploit it with a new product that’s better for consumers.”
Williams ended his questioning with a final statement for Zuckerberg: “I’m really glad you’re a capitalist.”
Representative Andy Barr has perhaps the friendliest examination of Zuckerberg of the day, asserting that he supports the executive’s choice not to censor political ads, especially those from Trump.
“I do find it highly troubling that politicians are trying to bully you to be a fact-checker, and to be the speech police, especially in politics which are at the core of the first amendment,” Barr said.
Representative David Scott also addresses Facebook’s “practice of redlining certain communities” as outlined by the recent settlement with the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“What have you put into action to eliminate these practices?” he asks.
“We entered into a settlement with these civil rights groups to to create a new standard where we block that kind of targeting,” Zuckerberg said. “And I think it’s worth noting that the standard that we set as industry leading.”
It is worth noting that new rules proposed by the Trump administration may legally enable this kind of algorithmic redlining in the future.
Democratic Congressman Lacy Clay of Missouri addresses a recent settlement Facebook made with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development related to its advertising platform violating the Fair Housing Act.
Clay asked if Facebook will reveal what algorithms that led to discrimination in this case. Zuckerberg danced around an answer, saying the company does not collect data on race specifically and that it is carrying out a large-scale civil rights audit on its policies.
“It’s always been against our policies for anyone to use the ad systems to discriminate, and we enforce those policies through a mix of technical systems and human review,” Zuckerberg said.
Democratic Congressman Brad Sherman of California criticized Zuckerberg’s claims that Libra will help poor and unbanked people around the world enter the financial system.
“The poor and unbanked need pesos, they need dollars that they can buy something at a local store,” he said. “You’ve done no effort to help the unbanked anywhere else and any other time.”
He said an anonymous currency is more likely to help drug dealers and other people seeking to circumvent traditional financial systems more than the poor and unbanked.
“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,” he said. “You’re trying to help those for whom the dollar is not a good currency – drug dealers and tax evaders.”
Anti-vaccine content on Facebook enters discussion
The hearings are quickly winding into topics outside of cryptocurrency.
Representative Bill Posey of Florida uses his time on the floor to ask Zuckerberg why Facebook cracks down on anti-vaccine content, seeming to support the theory – for which there is no scientific backing – that vaccines cause disabilities.
“I support vaccinations of children and adults, but I also support open and frank communication of the risk of vaccination,” he said.
Zuckerberg does not seem to know how to respond to a congressman supporting anti-vaccination groups.
“We try to focus on on misinformation that has the potential to lead to physical harm or imminent harm,” Zuckerberg says. “And that can include, especially misleading health advice.”