Facebook CEO Tries To Explain Digital Currencies To Maxine Waters & Her Committee

Update 2: Mark Zuckerberg's latest turn before Congress slowed slightly after a lengthy lunch break, but the legislators who served as Zuck's interlocutors' turned on the aggression, and grilled him about Facebook's advertising business - specifically its business for political ads.

In one particularly notable performance, AOC tried to suss out the subtleties of FB's new policy for "fact checking" political ads. The questions made Zuck look befuddled, as he admitted that the company does have standards for removing political ads if they go way too far (though Zuck said he woulld have to check wth his team).

"You might flag them as wrong, but you won't take them down." Watch the spirited back-and-forth below:

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Update: Three hours into the hearing, it seems early predictions were correct: lawmakers seemed to struggle with the hearing's stated topic, and instead wheedled Zuckerberg with questions about Facebook's commitment to human rights and its plans for safeguarding the next election (yes, the specter of Russian bots hung over the hearing like the ghost of Christmas past).

One interesting thread that some of the Democrats, including Texas Rep. Al Green and Ohio Rep. Joyce Beatty, managed to tease out: While Zuck has tried to pitch Libra as a tool for bolstering economic equality and inclusion for the world's poor and unbanked, it seems the company hasn't actually included many minorities or the economically disadvantaged in the creation, or operation, of the product.

Another lawmaker accused Zuck of using this benevolent posturing as subterfuge for building a system that will enable drug dealers and criminals.

In another "blistering exchange" that leftist commentators are praising for aggressively holding Zuck accountable on civil rights (though, in our estimation, it was a largely incoherent bid to create politically useful soundbites), Rep. Beatty pressed Zuck about the company's efforts to champion civil rights.

To end with some humor, another (Republican) lawmaker compares Zuck to President Trump, a comment he says he meant in a "complimentary" way.

Judging by the brief flash of emotion on Zuck's face, he didn't see it that way.

But one thing is for certain: Bashing FB, Libra, Zuck et. all remains a bipartisan issue.

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Nearly three months after the internal head of Facebook's Libra project testified before the Senate Banking Committee, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will appear before the "Mad" Maxine Waters-led House Financial Services Committee Wednesday morning to answer questions about the project, which has lost roughly one-quarter of its corporate partners over the past few weeks.

Zuckerberg and his company have faced criticisms over Libra as lawmaker and academics raise doubts about the feasibility of regulating such a project, while others have warned that Libra is an attempt by Facebook to create its own fiat currency, and could be easily abused by criminals for the purposes of laundering money. Facebook, in turn, has sought to distance itself from the project, reminding its critics that Libra and the digital wallet designed to hold the stablecoin, which Facebook named Calibra, are technically overseen by the Libra Association, a nonprofit group founded by the project's members that will be tasked with overseeing the operations of the cryptocurrency project.

That pool of members is consistently shrinking: Visa, Mastercard, eBay, Stripe, Mercado Pago and several other partners announced they would be leaving the project earlier this month. Facebook may have built the system upon which Libra will operate, but it is now technically one of 21 partners remaining in the project.

Of course, any time a Facebook executive has testified before Congress over the past 18 months or so, Democratic lawmakers haven't been able to resist aggressively questioning them about the 'election interference' purportedly carried out on FB's platform by a group of Russian intelligence agents who allegedly deployed just ~$100,000 in ad buys to sway the outcome of an American election.

Watch Zuckerberg's testimony live, starting at 10 am.

Zuckerberg has been in the news quite a bit lately concerning Facebook's expensive lobbying (liberals have been outraged by the company's donations to Republican lobbyists and candidates) and the campaign advice he reportedly gave to former Harvard classmate Pete Buttigieg. He also delivered a speech in Washington last week where he said he's not comfortable being the arbiter of free speech (he also made up a new origin story for Facebook that involved Zuck wanting to create a platform for students to express their opposition to the war in Iraq).

While the hearing is nominally about Libra, expect lawmakers to verge into territory like what FB is doing to stop election interference, as well as hate-speech spreading on its platform.

Zuck makes a big pitch in his opening remarks: The FB CEO argues that the project will aid financial inclusion and inequality by bringing millions of people who don't use banks into the financial system.

Here's an excerpt highlighted by Axios:

There are more than a billion people around the world who don’t have access to a bank account, but could through mobile phones if the right system existed. This includes 14 million people here in the U.S. Being shut out of the financial system has real consequences for people’s lives—and it’s often the most disadvantaged people who pay the highest price.… T he problem of financial under-inclusion is solvable, and I believe that we can play a role in helping to find the solution.

While we debate these issues, the rest of the world isn’t waiting. China is moving quickly to launch similar ideas in the coming months. Libra will be backed mostly by dollars and I believe it will extend America’s financial leadership as well as our democratic values and oversight around the world. If America doesn’t innovate, our financial leadership is not guaranteed.

Read the rest below: 

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