House Democrats challenged Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on a number of issues Wednesday at a hearing focused primarily on the company’s efforts to develop cryptocurrency—putting the social media executive on the defensive regarding Facebook’s position on the limits of free speech in political advertising, its labor practices, and critics’ claims that the company supports housing discrimination.
Facebook spent more than $12 million in the first nine months of 2019 to lobby the federal government to win approval of Libra, its proposed cryptocurrency, and to fight growing calls that the company should be broken up. Zuckerberg was called to appear before the House Financial Services Committee to explain why lawmakers and the public should trust Facebook.
Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) opened the hearing by accusing Zuckerberg of ruthlessly pursuing more power through Facebook, which is now used by about a third of the world population, at the expense of its users’ privacy and other rights.
“Perhaps you believe you’re above the law, and its appears that you are aggressively increasing the size of your company and are willing to step on or over anyone—including your competitors, women, people of color, your own users, and even our democracy to get what you want,” said Waters. “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.”
Part of the company’s threat to democracy, Waters said, comes from allowing factually incorrect political advertising to appear on the platform. Earlier this month, Facebook came under fire for allowing an ad on the site for President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign which included falsehoods.
Zuckerberg told the committee that, rather than fact-checking political advertisements before they’re able to appear on the platform, independent fact-checkers review content after it is distributed widely.
CNN notably refused to allow the same video to air on its network, citing falsehoods about the whistleblower complaint which led to the House’s impeachment inquiry including the use of the word ‘coup’ “to describe a constitutionally prescribed legal process.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) pointedly asked Zuckerberg whether the company has determined the limits of free political speech.
“Would I be able to run advertisements on Facebook targeting Republicans in primaries saying that they voted for the Green New Deal?” she asked. “I mean, if you’re not fact checking political advertisements, I’m just trying to understand the bounds here. What’s fair game?”
Zuckerberg replied that he wasn’t sure whether such an ad would be permitted to appear on Facebook.
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