Facebook Inc CEO Mark Zuckerberg conceded on Wednesday that the company’s planned digital currency Libra was a “risky project,” but sought to reassure skeptical US lawmakers that it could lower the cost of electronic payments and open up the global financial system to more people.
Sporting a suit and tie, Zuckerberg also fended off aggressive questions on election interference, free speech, hate groups and fake news from members of the US House of Representatives Financial Services Committee.
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 US 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 US 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 US 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.
Representative Ann Wagner, a Republican, pressed Zuckerberg on why so many companies abandoned the Libra effort. “You’ve lost these stable partners and I find it highly concerning,” she said. “Why do a number of these founding members have concerns of whether you’re up to the task of meeting our money laundering and regulatory standards?”
The 35-year old Facebook CEO conceded that those companies dropped out because Libra is a “risky project” and that he was not sure it would even work. During his testimony, the price of bitcoin versus the US dollar tumbled to a five-month low.