WASHINGTON – Facebook's top executive Mark Zuckerberg returned to the hot seat on Wednesday to defend a cryptocurrency project that has become the latest target of criticism from lawmakers frustrated by the social media giant.
He ended up defending Facebook on a number of issues, from political advertising to housing discrimination and child pornography.
In a hearing for the House Financial Services Committee, Mr. Zuckerberg presented a rosy view of how cryptocurrency would provide a secure way for millions of Americans without bank accounts to exchange money at an affordable price.
Lawmakers have been relentless in their criticism of Libra and Facebook leader. On Wednesday morning, they also took the opportunity to call Mr. Zuckerberg on the carpet for the many problems of the past three years.
Representative Maxine Waters, the chair of the committee, set the tone for the meeting early. She grilled Mr. Zuckerberg over the company's political advertising policies, Facebook's willingness to allow virtually free speeches across the platform and the company's changing positions on how it wanted to treat so-called blockchain advertising and technology across its services.
of this will be a massive voter suppression effort. The requirement to promote freedom of speech does not ring true, ”she said.
Ms. Waters started the hearing with an opening statement that also touched on the company's ongoing problems with foreign electoral interference, privacy violations, its poor record of the workforce's diversity and allegations of housing discrimination from its advertising platform.
Committee members said that Facebook was facing a credibility crisis. Representative Nydia M. Velázquez, a Democrat from New York, pointed to Facebook's pledge in acquiring WhatsApp in 2014 to keep the messaging app separate from the Facebook platform. But a few years later, Mr. Zuckerberg announced that it would merge data between the two apps.
“Do you understand why this post makes us anxious for Facebook to enter the cryptocurrency space? Have you learned not to lie down? ”Said Ms Velásquez.
Mr. Zuckerberg was defensive. "Congresswoman, I would disagree with the characterization," he said before being cut off again by further questions.
Representatives who were native to national security issues, and the ways in which bad actors have used cryptocurrency to engage in illegal activity.  "You create a whole new currency, which can be anonymous, and that can create a whole new threat to Americans and national security, which is a major concern," said New York Democrat Representative Carolyn Maloney.
Representative Ann Wagner, a Missouri Republican, said she was troubled by Facebook's history of dealing with child pornography on the site. The company is reported to have discovered millions of exploitative photos and videos.
"You're not working hard enough and end-to-end encryption won't help the problem," Wagner said.
Mr. Zuckerberg acknowledged the difficulties of politicizing a global platform, but was again defensive when challenged on the company's ability to respond to the spread of images on Facebook.
"We work harder than any other company to identify this behavior," said Mr. Zuckerberg.
A stream of criticism has been directed at Facebook's cryptocurrency efforts since it was announced in June. But Mr. Zuckerberg, who is personally fascinated by cryptocurrency, is committed to the project.
Over the past week, Facebook officials have been on a charm offensive with regulators and lawmakers, leading up to the hearing on Wednesday. And Mr. Zuckerberg has taken on a more confident role in defending the social network in Washington in recent weeks.
Facebook has one of the largest influencer operations in Washington and has boosted its lobbying in response to increased government scrutiny this year. The company is on track to spend $ 12.3 million to lobby the federal government in the first nine months of the year, compared to $ 12.6 million for the full year, according to public filings.
However, the financial industry and technology companies are increasingly growing the cryptocurrency project. Facebook originally brought in 27 partners to join a Libra Association in Switzerland that is supposed to run the network. But several big name partners, including PayPal, Mastercard and Visa, have dropped out.
Mr. Zuckerberg described Libra as a democratizing economic system that would benefit poor consumers, as well as the estimated 14 million people in the United States who do not have access to bank accounts and who cannot afford bank fees.
“People pay too much cost – and have to wait too long – to send money home to their families abroad. The current system fails them, "Zuckerberg said in the advance version of his testimony. “The financial industry is stagnant, and there is no digital financial architecture to support the innovation we need. I think this problem can be solved and Libra can help. ”
This is a developmental story. It will be updated.