Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Corporate gatekeepers and big tech monopolists are making it more difficult than ever for independent media to survive. Please chip in today.

With an image of himself on a screen in the background, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Financial Services Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill October 23, 2019 in Washington, DC. Zuckerberg testified about Facebook's proposed cryptocurrency Libra, how his company will handle false and misleading information by political leaders during the 2020 campaign and how it handles its users’ data and privacy. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

With an image of himself on a screen in the background, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Financial Services Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill October 23, 2019 in Washington, DC. Zuckerberg testified about Facebook's proposed cryptocurrency Libra, how his company will handle false and misleading information by political leaders during the 2020 campaign and how it handles its users’ data and privacy. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

'Perhaps You Believe You're Above the Law': Zuckerberg Grilled Over Libra, False Political Ads, and More

Facebook founder and CEO is warned that lawmakers have "serious concerns" about Facebook's size and reach.

Julia Conley

House Democrats challenged Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on a number of issues Wednesday at a hearing focused primarily on the company's efforts to develop cryptocurrency—putting the social media executive on the defensive regarding Facebook's position on the limits of free speech in political advertising, its labor practices, and critics' claims that the company supports housing discrimination.

Facebook spent more than $12 million in the first nine months of 2019 to lobby the federal government to win approval of Libra, its proposed cryptocurrency, and to fight growing calls that the company should be broken up. Zuckerberg was called to appear before the House Financial Services Committee to explain why lawmakers and the public should trust Facebook.

Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) opened the hearing by accusing Zuckerberg of ruthlessly pursuing more power through Facebook, which is now used by about a third of the world population, at the expense of its users' privacy and other rights.

"Perhaps you believe you're above the law, and its appears that you are aggressively increasing the size of your company and are willing to step on or over anyone—including your competitors, women, people of color, your own users, and even our democracy to get what you want," said Waters. "Given the company's size and reach it should be clear why we have serious concerns about your plans to establish a global digital currency."

Part of the company's threat to democracy, Waters said, comes from allowing factually incorrect political advertising to appear on the platform. Earlier this month, Facebook came under fire for allowing an ad on the site for President Donald Trump's re-election campaign which included falsehoods.

Zuckerberg told the committee that, rather than fact-checking political advertisements before they're able to appear on the platform, independent fact-checkers review content after it is distributed widely.  

CNN notably refused to allow the same video to air on its network, citing falsehoods about the whistleblower complaint which led to the House's impeachment inquiry including the use of the word 'coup' "to describe a constitutionally prescribed legal process."

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) pointedly asked Zuckerberg whether the company has determined the limits of free political speech.

"Would I be able to run advertisements on Facebook targeting Republicans in primaries saying that they voted for the Green New Deal?" she asked. "I mean, if you're not fact checking political advertisements, I'm just trying to understand the bounds here. What's fair game?"

Zuckerberg replied that he wasn't sure whether such an ad would be permitted to appear on Facebook.

Critics of Facebook say the company should acknowledge that it's used by many as a news publisher and hold itself accountable for the content that appears on the platform.

Zuckerberg also came under fire at Wednesday's hearing for Facebook's algorithm and the company's practice of optimizing ads by sending them to specific demographics—a policy which critics say exacerbates housing discrimination and is reminiscent of the redlining which segregated neighborhoods in the 20th century.

"Technological innovations have created new opportunities for discrimination in U.S. housing markets that may be harder to spot, investigate, and attribute to any particular individual when proprietary algorithms are making decisions that have systemic impacts," wrote the committee ahead of the hearing.

"You have even enabled the practice of this dreaded redlining of certain communities, restricting them from housing and employment opportunities," said Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.). "We in Congress have worked hard for the past 50 years to eliminate the very racial discrimination practices that your platform is guilty of."

Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) drove the discussion back to Libra and Zuckerberg's claim that the cryptocurrency would help the 1.7 billion people around the world who cannot afford to use banks for their financial needs.

"I know you understand the tech and business case for Libra, you have the stats, but I'm not sure you understand the source of the pain that millions are experiencing, that are experiencing underbanking and credit invisibility," Pressley said.

"This is not about banking costs," she added. "This is about a tsunami of hurt that millions are experiencing because of a $1.6 trillion student debt crisis, because of rising healthcare costs and people having to use GoFundMe pages to pay medical bills."

"You represent the power," the congresswoman said, "but I don't think you understand the pain."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Scientists to BlackRock Vice Chairman: New Fossil Fuel Development 'Incompatible' With 1.5°C

"The only responsible course of action is to do everything in our power to stop fossil fuel expansion and further emissions."

Jessica Corbett ·


Goldman Prize Awarded to Activists Who Showed Nature's 'Amazing Capability to Regenerate'

"While the many challenges before us can feel daunting, and at times make us lose faith, these seven leaders give us a reason for hope and remind us what can be accomplished in the face of adversity."

Julia Conley ·


Faith Leaders Call for Federal Election Monitors in Georgia to Protect Black Voters

"It is imperative that our election this November is monitored to preserve ballot integrity and ensure ballot security."

Brett Wilkins ·


'Inaction Is Bought': Here Are the Receipts on NRA's Purchase of GOP

"The issue is money in politics," said Nina Turner after the nation's latest mass killing of students and teachers. Right-wing lawmakers are "allowing children to die because of the gun lobby."

Kenny Stancil ·


'This Is on You!' Beto Interrupts Abbott Press Conference on Texas Massacre

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke accused Texas' GOP leaders of "doing nothing and offering us nothing" in the wake of the massacre at Robb Elementary School.

Jake Johnson ·

Common Dreams Logo