Mark Zuckerberg tried to defend his proposed Libra cryptocurrency project Wednesday before Congress, but lawmakers had other questions and the Facebook CEO ended up defending targeted ads, housing discrimination and civil rights violations.
Zuckerberg presented a rosy view of how the Libra coin will give billions of people around the world without bank accounts a safe and affordable way to exchange money. He said Facebook would not offer Libra anywhere in the world “unless all U.S. regulators approve it.”
This was Zuckerberg’s first testimony before Congress since the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
The hearing itself was titled “An Examination of Facebook and Its Impact on the Financial Services and Housing Sectors,” giving lawmakers an opening to question Zuckerberg about settling with civil rights groups in March over targeted advertising practices, which previously allowed advertisers to target audiences by racial proxies.
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Brian Fung, a tech reporter for CNN, tweeted part of a transcript where Zuckerberg was questioned about the civil rights settlement and did not have answers:
“Rep Joyce Beatty (D-OH) repeatedly needled Zuckerberg on diversity and inclusion issues saying it was personal for her. Beatty, the vice chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, quizzed Zuckerberg on the civil rights report that his own company commissioned, demanding that he name the top three findings.
“‘One of them was around housing ads which we’ve talked about,’ said Zuckerberg, who appeared visibly uncomfortable. ‘Another was around setting up a civil rights task force.’
‘Who’s on the civil rights task force?’ Beatty interjected
‘Sheryl Sandberg is the person who is…’
‘We know Cheryl is not really civil rights,’ she said ‘I’m trying to help you here. She’s your COO and I don’t think there’s anything — and I know Cheryl well — about civil rights in her background, so come better than that for me.'”
Beatty also grilled Zuckerberg for not knowing if diverse bankers manage Facebook’s cash or if diverse law firms handle its court cases, Techcrunch reported. She chastised him for lacking diverse leadership, saying “this is appalling and disgusting to me”.
The hearing itself was titled “An Examination of Facebook and Its Impact on the Financial Services and Housing Sectors,” opening the door for lawmakers to question Facebook on several issues including an update on its settlement with civil rights groups in March over allowing targeted ads that previously let advertisers target audiences by racial proxies.
Soon after Facebook settled, the Department of Housing and Urban Development charged Facebook with encouraging and enabling housing discrimination through its targeted advertising practices, despite the changes it said it had made to its platform to prevent that.
In a June 30 Facebook blog, Sandberg wrote that she had created “a civil rights task force made up of senior leaders across key areas of the company … (that) will onboard civil rights expertise to ensure it is effective in addressing areas like content policy, fairness in artificial intelligence, privacy, and elections.”