Mark Zuckerberg – Facebook – hearing 2019-10-23

Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Mark Zuckerberg is coming to DC for round 2 with Congress.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg will be in front of the House Financial Services Committee on October 23rd. What should lawmakers ask him to ensure Facebook and its new foray into digital currency operate with integrity?

This is your one-stop-shop to learn about these issues and provide questions and statements of fact to help inform the work of lawmakers.

This hearing was held on Wednesday 10/23/19.

Political context

Hearing details

Who: Mark Zuckerberg, Chairman and CEO, Facebook

What: Full US House of Representatives Financial Services Committee hearing: “An examination of Facebook and its impact on the financial services and housing sectors.”

When: Wednesday, October 23, 2019 at 10:00am ET

Where: 2128 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC / Webcast

Why Congress cares

House Committee on Financial Services Democrats’ letter to Facebook, 7/2/19

Facebook response to Financial Services Committee Democrats as described by The Hill, 7/3/19

Facebook’s related 1,500-word post, 7/3/19

Bipartisan Senate letter to Facebook, 5/10/19

Facebook letter in response to Senate, 7/8/19

Nonpartisan analysis and research

Quick reads

Blockchain and distributed ledger technologies – Government Accountability Office Science and Tech Spotlight

Financial Innovation: “Cryptocurrencies” – Congressional Research Service In Focus

Data, social media, and users: Can we all get along? – Congressional Research Service Insight

Deep dives

Antitrust and “Big Tech” – Congressional Research Service Report

Regulating Big Tech: Legal Implications – Congressional Research Service Legal Sidebar

Examining regulatory frameworks for digital currencies and blockchain – Congressional Research Service Testimony

Seven sample questions for lawmakers to ask Zuckerberg

Mr. Zuckerberg, according to your white paper, Libra “is designed to be a stable digital cryptocurrency that will be fully backed by a reserve of real assets.” Your expectation is that Libra will be stable – akin to the US dollar – as opposed to prone to dramatic fluctuations, like the Bitcoin cryptocurrency.

That same document states that the Libra Association, a coalition of companies backing your project, “…serves as the entity through which the Libra Reserve is managed, and hence the stability and growth of the Libra economy are achieved.”

Mr. Zuckerberg, the Libra Association is disbanding. PayPal, eBay, Visa, and Mastercard have already left the coalition. After such impactful defections from the Libra Association, which you say will be Libra’s bedrock, how will Libra manage to be a stable digital currency?

Followup: If Libra were to become a legitimate digital currency but even more companies decided to leave your coalition, wouldn’t the value of Libra drop, harming Americans’ finances? Please explain.

Followup: Why have seven partners left the Libra Association? Does this speak to systemic issues with the Libra project that have not been made public? Please explain any technical issues that your former partners have brought to your attention regarding the Libra project.

Mr. Zuckerberg, federal law forbids discrimination in advertising for housing. Your company, Facebook, stands accused of breaching the Fair Housing Act by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD. HUD says you’ve enabled ad buyers to restrict “who can view housing-related ads,” including people who are more likely to be disabled, such as individuals who indicated an affinity for an “assistance dog” or a “mobility scooter.”

That means your company stands accused of engaging in illegal “discrimination by allowing real-estate companies to target potential customers by race, religion, and other factors.”

What steps are you taking to eliminate the ability of Facebook’s user-base to discriminate?

Mr. Zuckerberg, political ads that your company shows to Facebook users are exempt from fact-checking. You have decided to allow political ads comprised of lies.

You believe that the solution to preventing the spread of disinformation is for the public to reward or penalize the reputation of an individual posting content, not to audit the content itself. You said, “you can still say controversial things, but you have to stand behind them with your real identity and face accountability.”

Mr. Zuckerberg, there is a difference between a controversial statement and a lie. Sometimes controversial statements are those backed by the facts. Furthermore, what you propose could essentially amount to a popularity contest. Do you really think that reality should be determined by the individuals with the largest followings, rather than what is actually going on the world, and how the world objectively works?

Mr. Zuckerberg, Facebook has rules prohibiting spamming and the use of fake accounts. Last month, your company terminated the “I Love America” page, which was run by Ukrainians and reposted memes from Russian troll farms, like the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg, which is facing criminal charges for manipulating the 2016 presidential election.

The “I Love America” page had been operating since 2017, gained 1.1 million followers, and generated tens of millions of likes, shares, or comments. That is equivalent to some of the biggest American news sites.

Why did it take until last month for you to terminate this site?

Followup: Moving forward, what is Facebook doing to get ahead of these issues?

Followup: How do you intend to prevent foreign actors from targeting specific groups of voters, such as African Americans or Latinos, with disinformation?

Mr. Zuckerberg, the US intelligence community, and very recently, a bipartisan report released by the Senate Intelligence Committee, has confirmed that the Russian government implemented information warfare to influence the 2016 presidential election. Your company, Facebook, estimates that advertisements and other content created by Russian operatives “may have reached as many as 126 million people” via your service.

Now you plan to launch Libra, Facebook’s digital currency project. However, cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin were used by the Russian operatives engaged in their influence campaign “to avoid direct relations with traditional financial institutions, allowing them to evade greater scrutiny of their identities and sources of funds” when paying for resources like computer servers, websites, and virtual private networks.

The Russian operatives used digital currencies to help obscure their hacking attacks from American detection.

Given the large extent to which Russian operatives leveraged Facebook to influence the 2016 presidential election, why wouldn’t they, or other foreign actors, be able to leverage Libra in efforts to manipulate upcoming US elections?

Mr. Zuckerberg, your company has taken some steps to curb white identity extremism, such as banning white nationalism, a decision that took months. You also broadened the meaning of terrorism “to emphasize violence intended to intimidate civilians, be it for political, ideological, or religious aims.”

On the other hand, Facebook permits “politicians to use hate speech so long as it doesn’t incite violence,” and critics claim you refrain from “more-aggressive policing to coddle right-wing users and protect [your] business model.”

It took you two months after the Christchurch shooting to prohibit users who’d violated your Community Guidelines from live-streaming videos. If that policy had already been in place, the video of the shooting would have been prevented from going live.

Given that the head of your counterterrorism and dangerous organizations team said that Facebook is “never going to be perfect” at tackling white identity extremism, 1) what other gaps do you see in content moderation and community management around hate speech, violence, and terror on your service, and 2) how are you working to address those gaps?

Mr. Zuckerberg, some developers who build applications that run on your service have been known to use Facebook users’ data in nefarious ways. In the most well-known breach of Facebook users’ data privacy, Cambridge Analytica harvested data from 50 million US voters’ Facebook profiles that were then used to influence the 2016 presidential election.

In September, your company suspended tens of thousands of apps from 400 developers for privacy reasons. One developer used Facebook apps to infect users’ phones with malware. Another used quiz apps to scrape your users’ data. You must put a stop to such breaches.

The IEEE, a highly-regarded professional organization with over 423,000 members whose specialties are rooted in electrical and computer sciences or engineering, has launched a project that includes setting standards around data management and privacy as one focus. The leader of the project has criticized the so-called ‘consent model’ used by your company to secure your users’ permission for how their data is to be used as being “extremely problematic because people don’t know why they’re clicking or what they’re clicking.”

An alternative model is ‘data agency,’ where users are at the center of their data, empowered with the ability to access, control, and grant permission for use of their data.

Are you considering switching to a data agency model to receive your users’ data permissions? Why or why not?

Followup: Are Facebook employees, or a formal team at Facebook, involved in creating the IEEE standards around data management and privacy? Will Facebook follow the recommendations on standards produced by IEEE? Please explain.

More sample questions will be added to this space as evidence-based contributions are received. To view or download a PDF of all sample questions, click here.

A / V content

On-the-go audio

Facebook’s Libra and the future of money – Gadget Lab podcast

Facebook, privacy, and election interference – Science podcast

Commentary on Facebook’s Libra – Vergecast

Big tech platforms and user content – Vergecast

Facebook execs on splitting it up – Vergecast

Facebook cofounder urging government to break it up – Recode Decode podcast

Video collection

David Marcus, head of Calibra at Facebook, testifying before the House Financial Services Committee, 7/17/19

David Marcus testifying before the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, 7/16/19

Mark Zuckerberg testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, 4/11/18​

Mark Zuckerberg testifying during joint hearing of the Senate Judiciary and Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committees, 4/10/18

Journalism and Congressional products

Press clips

Libra, Facebook’s digital money – Vox explainer

Department of Housing and Urban Development action against Facebook – Wall Street Journal piece

Senate Intel report on Russian election meddling – CBS News piece

Congressional bills and reports

Keep Big Tech Out of Finance Act – discussion draft

Russia’s use of social media in active measures campaigns and interference in the 2016 US election – Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Report