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Facebook CEO Zuckerberg Faces Lawmakers' Questions On Digital Currency And More


Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced angry and skeptical lawmakers today with one overriding question - can Facebook be trusted?


NYDIA VELAZQUEZ: Do you realize that you and Facebook have a credibility issue here?

MARK ZUCKERBERG: Congresswoman, I understand that we have work to build trust on this.

CORNISH: That was Democrat Nydia Velazquez of New York facing off with Zuckerberg.

NPR's tech correspondent Shannon Bond followed the hearing, and she joins us now. And, Shannon, we should note that Facebook is among NPR's financial supporters. I want to start with how Zuckerberg got there. Why was he testifying on the Hill in the first place?

SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: Mark Zuckerberg came to this hearing prepared to talk about Facebook's digital currency, Libra. But he actually ended up defending the company and himself from a litany of criticisms that was really far-ranging. So he was asked about everything from political advertising to hate speech, election interference, privacy missteps, even the spread of child sexual exploitation on the platform.

And, you know, Facebook has become a punching bag for politicians on all sides, so we saw Zuckerberg get an earful from both Republicans and Democrats at the hearing. And it shows that credibility and this trust issue is really core for Facebook today.

CORNISH: You mentioned this hearing was supposed to be about Libra, and that project, frankly, seems to be in jeopardy. So what did Zuckerberg have to say about it?

BOND: Yeah, he's trying to strike a difficult balance here. So on the one hand, he acknowledges there's a lot of opposition to Libra. They've even lost some partners, like Visa and Mastercard, who have pulled out. Zuckerberg said that was because the project is risky. And he says Facebook won't support launching Libra anywhere until it gets approval from U.S. regulators. It would even walk away from the project.

On the other hand, he gave a really striking defense of Libra today. He said this is not about Facebook. This is about America versus China. He said China is also working on a digital currency, and the U.S. risks falling behind.


ZUCKERBERG: I just think that we can't sit here and assume that because America is today the leader that it will always get to be the leader if we don't innovate.

BOND: So just last week, Zuckerberg made this same argument about free speech - that if Facebook restricts what you can say on the platform, that's at odds with American values. And I think, you know, we're increasingly hearing him make this argument that Facebook represents America and it represents American values.

CORNISH: Facebook is also in the hot seat with regulators here in Washington because people think it has too much power. How much of that was brought up today in the hearing?

BOND: Yeah. I mean, of course, there's investigations going on about this. And the committee chairwoman, Democrat Maxine Waters of California, she didn't pull any punches when talking about this.


MAXINE WATERS: You have opened up a serious discussion about whether Facebook should be broken up.

BOND: And Maxine Waters reiterated she thinks Facebook should stop working on Libra altogether until it sorts out other problems that it has, some of these problems that were raised in the hearings - you know, things like disinformation, things like manipulation of the platform. And those problems are all really connected to Facebook's size. It has more than 2 billion users now. And every decision it makes has far-reaching consequences.

But not everybody on the committee jumped on the breakup bandwagon. You saw several Republican members who said they agreed that innovation is important, although some said they also had concerns about Libra - how it might affect the global financial system and, you know, whether Facebook was really the right messenger for this.

So, you know, I think, overall, what we saw in today's hearing is that everybody has criticisms and frustrations with Facebook, but no one has any easy answers for how to fix it.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Shannon Bond. Thanks for watching the hearing.

BOND: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Shannon Bond is a business correspondent at NPR, covering technology and how Silicon Valley's biggest companies are transforming how we live, work and communicate.
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