Mark Zuckerberg was hauled before the House Financial Services Committee this morning, ostensibly to discuss Facebook’s foray into cryptocurrency, Libra. But, as soon as Los Angeles Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who chairs the committee, took the mic, she made it clear that Mark Zuckerberg had some explaining to do, and Libra was just the beginning.
“Perhaps you believe you’re above the law,” she posed to the Facebook chief in her opening statement, “It appears you are trying to aggressively expand the size of your company and are willing to step on or over anyone—including your competitors, women, people of color, your own users, even our democracy—to get what you want.”
Waters brought up a litany of grievances with how the company has comported itself, well beyond her concerns about the launch of a new global currency that could, in theory, someday compete with the U.S. Dollar. She touched on everything from user privacy issues, Russian election meddling, and allowing the circulation of “fake news” and political propaganda, to how Facebook’s ad targeting has been used to facilitate housing discrimination and the lack of diversity in the company’s executive suite.
“Given the company’s size and reach, it should be clear why we have serious concerns,” Waters said, going on to raise the idea that regulators might make moves to break up the tech behemoth–an idea that’s also been on presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren’s lips of late.
Through much of the proceeding, C-SPAN cameras captured Zuckerberg appearing to squirm and make faces of concern.
Waters goes one-on-one with Zuckerberg over fact-checking political ads pic.twitter.com/xR6FMLkYyI
— Marcus Gilmer (@marcusgilmer) October 23, 2019
As Politico notes, Facebook has been under political pressure on a number of fronts. Recently, controversy has been kicked up over what many have characterized as a misleading anti-Joe Biden attack ad released on the platform by the Trump campaign, a chatbot dispatched by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to spread anti-Arab messaging, the revelation of record-breaking lobbying expenditures by the company, and growing calls for the FTC to intervene.
A number of news reports have found that Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have been in touch with the campaign of Pete Buttigieg, including suggesting names for staff roles on the campaign team. The pair attended Harvard at the same time and share some mutual friends, and, as Wired put it, “[m]ost significantly, they share a persona: the confident, disruption-peddling wonder-kid with a modern startup mentality.” Whatever their personal relationship may be, a representative of the Buttigieg campaign points out that the candidate has been critical of Facebook’s corporate activities and has reiterated the need to hold the company accountable.
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