On Wednesday, Facebook’s 35-year-old founder Mark Zuckerberg deigned to switch out one of his usual $300 T-shirts for a suit to testify in front of the House Financial Services Committee. Ostensibly, he was there to defend Facebook’s plans to launch Libra, a new cryptocurrency, without regulatory oversight. “I get that I’m not the ideal messenger for this right now,” Zuckerberg said up front. “We’ve faced a lot of issues over the past few years, and I’m sure there are a lot of people who wish it were anyone but Facebook that was helping to propose this.”
Zuckerberg did get to discuss Libra, but just barely. Instead, House Democrats grilled him for a full five hours on everything from Facebook’s controversial track records with everything from diversity to corporate ethics to misinformation to privacy. “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,” representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said before diving right in with a question about Cambridge Analytica—the first of many to leave Zuckerberg flummoxed.
But that was just the beginning. From there, Zuckerberg proceeded to dodge questions about whether politicians would be allowed to run ads with incorrect election dates in predominantly black areas, what he’s been discussing at his private dinners with controversial conservative figures, and why he seemed to imply that publications tied to white supremacy, such as the Daily Caller, meet a rigorous standard for fact-checking. Each time, Zuckerberg failed to provide a satisfactory answer, which he also unfailingly began by addressing Ocasio-Cortez as “congresswoman.” She remained apparently unfazed—but only just barely.
Ocasio-Cortez was hardly the only one to take Zuckerberg to task. When it was her turn, representative Maxine Waters took the opportunity to share an observation with the room at large: “You have opened up a serious discussion about whether Facebook should be broken up,” she said. “Perhaps that you believe you’re above the law, and it appears that you are aggressively increasing the size of your company and are willing to step on and over anyone—including your competitors, women, people of color, your own users, and even our democracy—to get what you want.” (Representative Rashida Tlaib echoed her sentiments, posing the question, “Why should the very politicians who lead our country be held to a lower standard for truthfulness and decency than the average American?”)
When questioning Zuckerberg about Facebook’s privacy standards, representative Katie Porter didn’t mince words, either. “I think your pleading is inconsistent with your privacy principles, and I think the American people are tired of this hypocrisy,” she told Zuckerberg. “I’ve been in Congress 10 months and I have already lost count of how many people have sat in exactly that chair and said one thing to me and to Congress and then done another thing in federal court.”
Zuckerberg also failed to satisfactorily answer questions about Facebook’s current civil rights audit—and representative Joyce Beatty didn’t shy from calling him out. “It’s almost like you think this is a joke, when you have ruined the lives of many people, discriminated against them,” she said. “Maybe you just don’t read a lot of things about civil rights,” she added, when he said that he had not read a civil rights report that had been sent his way.
Zuckerberg may have survived the hearing, but from the sound of it, Beatty, at the very least, isn’t finished with him just yet. “I have a lot of questions I’m going to send to you that I’m not going to be able to get to. And I would like an answer, because this is appalling and disgusting to me.”