Democratic lawmaker challenges Facebook CEO during hearing over Libra cryptocurrency
Kari Paul – The Guardian
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez questions Mark Zuckerberg with the Virginia Democrat Jennifer Wexton during the hearing. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Mark Zuckerberg faced a grueling examination from the Democratic lawmaker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Wednesday, with questions over the Cambridge Analytica scandal and Facebook’s reluctance to police political advertising.
Ocasio-Cortez and other lawmakers grilled the Facebook CEO during a hearing in front of the US House of Representatives financial services committee regarding the launch of Facebook’s cryptocurrency project, Libra.
“In order for us to make decisions about Libra, I think we need to kind of dig into your past behavior and Facebook’s past behavior with respect to our democracy,” the New York congresswoman said, before asking Zuckerberg when he had first learned of Cambridge Analytica’s operations.
Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives have declined to disclose when they found out the company was harvesting and selling user data to influence elections.
Internal Facebook correspondence uncovered in 2019 as part of a lawsuit revealed executives knew of potentially improper data collection by Cambridge Analytica as early as September 2015. The Guardian first reported on the existence of the firm in December 2015.
Zuckerberg claimed on Wednesday that he learned of Cambridge Analytica “around the time [the news] became public … around March of 2018”. Ocasio-Cortez asked if anybody on Zuckerberg’s leadership team knew about the firm prior to the report published by the Guardian on 11 December 2015.
“I believe some folks were tracking it internally,” Zuckerberg said. “I do think I was aware of Cambridge Analytica as an entity earlier, but I don’t know if I was tracking how they were using Facebook specifically.”
Ocasio-Cortez went on to ask the executive about Facebook’s policy on exempting political advertising from fact-checking, asking if she could pay to advertise an incorrect election date to people in a primarily black zip code, for example.
Zuckerberg said Facebook does support removing content in cases of violence or of census or voter suppression. He did not answer whether the company would take down outright lies if they were in political advertisements.
This month, the company declined to take down a Trump campaign ad that included a misleading portrayal of the former vice-president Joe Biden’s work in Ukraine.
“Do you see a potential problem here with a complete lack of fact-checking on political advertisements?” Ocasio-Cortez asked.
She also asked Zuckerberg about his “dinner parties with far-right figures” and if at those meetings he addressed the popular rightwing theory that Facebook cracks down on conservative speech, a question Zuckerberg also dodged.
Zuckerberg’s testimony marked the first time he has appeared before Congress since April 2018, when he spoke at a hearing regarding Cambridge Analytica. The executive repeatedly acknowledged Facebook’s mistakes during the questioning on Wednesday.
“I get that I’m not the ideal messenger for this right now. We’ve faced a lot of issues over the past few years and I’m sure there are a lot of people who wish it were anyone but Facebook that was helping to propose this,” he said.