Congress doesn't trust Zuckerberg
The last hearing Mark Zuckerberg attended in Washington DC let him off easy, but yesterday's Congress hearing was a little different: Congress seems unilaterally pissed at Facebook, on Libra and beyond.
The processions were much spicier than previously seen, with a particular focus on elections and how Facebook is allowing politicians to skirt misinformation on the social network, with advertising. One of the best moments came when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat for New York, ran Zuckerberg through a series of hypothetical ads with lies in them, leaving the CEO befuddled as to his own rules.
One exchange saw Zuckerberg grilled for Facebook being an "accelerant in many of the destructive political fights around the world," saying that "Facebook has been systemically found at the scene of the crime, [...] do you think that’s just a coincidence?"
When it came back to Libra, these were the underlying narratives: why should Facebook created to do anything like this, when it hasn't even cleaned up its existing mess properly? Rep. Nydia Velázquez asked Zuckerberg if he understood "why this record makes us concerned with Facebook entering the cryptocurrency space? Do you realize that you and Facebook have a credibility issue here?"
Trying to prove to the committee that Libra was beyond Facebook's control now, Zuckerberg said that Facebook won't agree to move forward on Libra unless all US regulatory authorities consent but that the Libra Association was not under its control. That means that Facebook would be "forced to leave the Association" if they proceed with Libra, anyway.
What really crystallized from this hearing was simple: the government is starting to understand how big Facebook is, and is increasingly weary of leaving it to its own devices. It doesn't, however, understand what to do about it, and currently is acting more like a growling dog than a unified front. Pissed off, but incoherent about whether it'll do something about it.
It feels like Libra is up against a wider problem: that it's spawned an understanding that Facebook needs to be regulated, somehow. That's the reason just 24 hours before this hearing even started, 47 attorney general's announced an antitrust investigation into the company. But, I'll hazard a bet the outcome will be the same as it's been for the last year: it's difficult to follow the antitrust playbook on this, because Facebook is a whole new type of monopoly.
A monopoly on connections, with other people, is really hard to unravel. Nobody knows what will happen, for better or for worse, if Facebook were to be broken up as is tradition.
Yet, leaving it as one monolithic beast is even scarier still. Especially when you consider that it's business as usual for now, launching things like a news tab in the app on Friday, with $200M in funding as a dangled carrot, to get news sites to stop complaining.
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