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  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) participates in a House Financial Services Committee hearing with Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg in Washington, U.S., Oct. 23, 2019.

    Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) participates in a House Financial Services Committee hearing with Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg in Washington, U.S., Oct. 23, 2019. | Photo: Reuters

Published 24 October 2019

Ocasio-Cortez asked Zuckerberg about his “dinner parties with far-right figures”.

Facebook Inc CEO Mark Zuckerberg was grilled by progressive U.S. lawmakers asking questions on election interference, free speech, hate groups and fake news.

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“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,” New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said, before asking Zuckerberg when he had first learned of Cambridge Analytica’s operations.

Zuckerberg conceded that the company's planned digital currency Libra was a "risky project," but sought to reassure skeptical U.S. lawmakers that it could lower the cost of electronic payments and open up the global financial system to more people.

Ocasio-Cortez kept up the pressure asking 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.

Representative Maxine Waters, the panel's fiery Democratic chair, quizzed Zuckerberg on Facebook's steps to combat misinformation and voter suppression ahead of the November 2020 U.S. presidential election. She also suggested policymakers should consider breaking up Facebook.

Waters had previously called for halting the Libra project before its planned 2020 launch, and has drafted legislation that would bar tech companies from entering financial services.

"It would be beneficial for all if Facebook concentrates on addressing its many existing deficiencies and failures before proceeding any further on the Libra project," Waters told Zuckerberg two days after Facebook disclosed it had removed a network of Russian accounts targeting U.S. voters on its Instagram platform.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike blasted Facebook for failing to crack down on online child exploitation and political misinformation, and for data privacy lapses. Several said they did not trust Facebook to help provide financial services to its 2.4 billion users given the past scandals.

"Facebook’s internal model was for a long time was 'Move fast and break things.' Mr. Zuckerberg, we do not want to break the international monetary system," said Representative Nydia Velazquez, a Democrat.

Zuckerberg said Facebook would insist on U.S. regulatory approval before launching Libra, which is being established by a Switzerland-based consortium including venture capital firms and nonprofits. He said Facebook would even leave the Libra Association if other companies sought to launch the currency without that sign-off.

Libra has faltered in recent weeks amid sustained criticism from lawmakers and regulators globally over fears it may aid money laundering and upend the global financial system. Several financial partners including Mastercard, Visa, PayPal and eBay have abandoned the project. 

The CEO last appeared before Congress in April 2018 when he fielded 10 hours of questions over two days from House and Senate panels on political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica's misuse of Facebook customer data to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

On Wednesday, he acknowledged Facebook's mistakes, saying he understood the social media giant was not the "ideal messenger" for the Libra project and that the company has "work to do to build trust." But he said past missteps should not stand in the way of Libra, based in Switzerland.

"The vision here is to make it so that people can send money to each other as easily and cheaply as it is sending a text message."

Lawmakers also touched on other hot button issues, including diversity, inclusion, and charges brought by the housing regulator in March, still pending, alleging Facebook violated fair lending laws.

Representative Joyce Beatty, a Democrat, hammered Zuckerberg, saying she viewed Facebook's efforts to address civil rights abuses as insufficient, calling them "appalling and disgusting."

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