CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, was recently called to testify before lawmakers and the Financial Services Committee about Facebook, Libra, and complex political matters interrelated with the two services.
And whilst the concept of Libra itself alone has raised objections and calls for regulation from lawmakers and regulators worldwide, Facebook being linked with the project has pushed Libra into anathema for many skeptics. Chiefly, regulators are concerned that Facebook is not enough to be operating a currency without extensive regulatory oversight, if at all.
Facebook has had a rather tumultuous recent few years. From Cambridge Analytica and accusations that Facebook is a tool for the mass dissemination of disinformation and hate to its handling of data privacy, Facebook has been dragged into the spotlight of public and regulatory scrutiny.
The timing of Libra’s announcement was also relatively inconvenient. As the 2020 US elections draw close, the platform’s large sphere of influence has made regulators concerned that Facebook will be committed towards the “unique responsibilities” that the company’s size engenders.
For the lawmakers present at the hearing, these unique responsibilities spanned Facebook’s commitment to fighting discrimination, its threshold of allowing freedom of speech from national political hopefuls, its role in combating disinformation and illegal activities being conducted on its platform.
During the hearing, Zuckerberg reiterated that the Libra Association will be operating independently of Facebook and that Facebook will not have the power required to control Libra on its own upon launch. However, that a substantial portion of the hearing consisted of lawmakers and regulators pressing Zuckerberg about Facebook’s culpability of, along with its capacity and commitment to solving its historic problems is indicative that their concerns were far from placated. In their eyes, Libra is Facebook’s, regardless of how the Libra Association was proposed to be structured.
Along these lines, if Facebook were to show to lawmakers that they are either incapable or unwilling to commit to solving their current problems, would lawmakers be convinced that Facebook is ready to handle yet another initiative – this time one with impacts on a global scale? Though Facebook has made commitments to do better, only time and results will tell if they have regained the trust of both regulators and the greater public at large.
It’s important to note that lawmakers aren’t just looking at Facebook’s commitments in a vacuum. For example, Zuckerberg made clear during the hearing that he would not be fact-checking nor censoring the majority of political ads issued by candidates on his platform, citing that aside from edge cases such as ads resulting in imminent physical harm or voter suppression, the general public deserves to see for themselves what political candidates stand for. However, recently Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced that Twitter will be banning all political advertising on Twitter on a global scale starting November 22, 2019. And so lawmakers might ask, “If another tech giant can do it, why not Facebook?”
And it might not just be Twitter that Facebook has to worry about. Other firms looking in on the scrutiny on Facebook could see this as an opportunity to increase their own market share.
To end, here’s a portion of Zuckerberg’s testimony.
“Now I believe that this is something that needs to get built, but 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 that wish it were anyone but Facebook who are helping to propose this. I actually don’t know if Libra is gonna work, but I believe that it’s important to try new things… as long as you’re doing so responsibly. This has been a challenging few years for Facebook. I recognize that we play an important role in society and have unique responsibilities because of that. And I feel blessed to be in a position where we can make a difference in people’s lives, and for as long as I’m here I’m committed to using our position to push for big ideas that I believe can help empower people”. –
Do you think that Libra is the solution for banking the unbanked? What do you think of Zuckerberg’s latest testimony? Let us know in the comments below.