Illustration by Hannah Robinson
On October 23 2019, the U.S. Congress’s Financial Affairs Committee convened with Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, to discuss the new challenge of the social network, the launch of the Libra crypto currency, and the impact of the platform on the U.S. economy.
Zuckerberg argues that this kind of innovation would lead to an advantage for those who currently cannot use a bank account, to transfer money without fees and solve problems related to the timing of sending money. The concept of innovation, however, goes against the questions of the committee members who, after the Russia scandal of the 2016 election and the legacy of Cambridge Analytica, are shown to be prejudiced to Facebook’s race into the future. In fact, the questions of the democratic majority Commission, which Zuckerberg answers with difficulty, alternate, focusing attention more on Libra and less on the previous problems regarding the protection of user data.
One of the last members to question the CEO was Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the youngest leading members of the Democratic Party. Ocasio-Cortez asked pressing questions, aimed at shedding light on the gaps in Facebook’s policies for safeguarding privacy and tackling misinformation spread on the social network. Her questions were not only effective in highlighting the battle for transparency required of large companies such as Facebook, but also demonstrated the confrontation between regulation and business strategy.
It is clear that, for the Commission, the priority is not the race for cryptocurrencies, but the discussion of shared material on social networks. In particular, the weak points of the platform emerged: the management of private data, the sharing of violent videos, the circulation of false information and the promotion of the hate speech. Two institutions, the American justice system and a giant of social media, were shown to clash.
In July 2019, the committee had already questioned the architect of the project, David Marcus, about Libra and, together with the opinions of other crypto currency experts, was beginning to collect material regarding the work of the platform in the financial field. In addition, a letter from the Independent Community Bankers of America sent to the Commission highlighted the irreversible effects that Libra could have on economic structures, expressing concern about the financial stability of a banking system without a deposit insurance system comparable to it.
The meeting between Zuckerberg and Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez highlighted many concerns regarding not only the new Libra proposal, but tension between the company’s aims and the government’s requirements, which prioritise protection, transparency and inclusion for web users.