Watch the Women of Congress Team Up to Take On Mark Zuckerberg
Congress is a famously slow-moving institution with a sub-30% approval rating, so it’s always exciting when the governing body does something noteworthy.
That’s what happened at Mark Zuckerberg’s hearing before the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday, where congressional representatives were given a chance to question him about Facebook’s proposed cryptocurrency service, Libra (although the conversation quickly slid into a general debate about Facebook’s influence on politics, with a side focus on Zuckerberg’s micro-bangs).
The hearing, which ran for over six hours, gave representatives a chance to administer what the New York Times referred to as a “Washington beating,” with many of the House’s most attention-getting members—including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Democratic committee chairwoman Maxine Waters—using the opportunity to take Zuckerberg to task for what some see as his company’s outsized role in American politics.
“Your claim to promote freedom of speech does not ring true,” Waters reprimanded Zuckerberg on the topic of Facebook’s recent decision not to vet political advertising.
For her part, Ocasio-Cortez confronted Zuckerberg with direct questions about just how far Facebook would go to ensure freedom of 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, to which Zuckerberg could only reply with an answer—“I don’t know the answer to that off the top of my head, I think probably”—that smacked of deflection. Fellow Democrat and “squad” member Rashida Tlaib echoed Ocasio-Cortez’s concern that Facebook does not appropriately monitor political advertising.
Waters and Ocasio-Cortez weren’t the only Democratic women to ask Zuckerberg the hard questions; New York representative Nydia Velázquez confronted the Facebook founder about his company going back on its promise to keep the WhatsApp messaging service, which it purchased in 2014, separate from Facebook: “Do you understand why this record makes us concerned with Facebook entering the cryptocurrency space? Have you learned that you should not lie?”
Democrat Carolyn Maloney also voiced her disapproval for Libra, saying, “You’re creating a whole new currency, which could be anonymous, that could create a whole new threat to Americans and national security, which is a huge concern.” The interrogation of Zuckerberg stretched across the aisle, with Republican congresswoman Ann Wagner bluntly voicing her concerns about Facebook’s history in dealing with the spread of child pornography on the site: “You are not working hard enough, and end-to-end encryption is not going to help the problem.”
Representative Katie Porter asked whether Facebook’s moderators were entitled to enough mental health benefits when their job of looking at some of the most horrifying and unpleasant content on the social media platform was so challenging:
It’s somewhat poetic that the women of Congress were the ones to take Facebook to task, since the company’s history with women is a somewhat fraught one; Facebook, after all, evolved out of a site called Facemash, which allowed users to rank female Harvard students by looks.
In the years since, the company has been hit with claims of gender bias and accusations that it does not provide appropriate parental leave; these issues weren’t on the table at Wednesday’s House hearings, of course, but watching these women force Zuckerberg to answer for his company’s ethical shortcomings felt satisfying nonetheless.