Lawmakers grill Zuckerberg on cryptocurrency, false claims in political ads

JUDY WOODRUFF: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
arrived on Capitol Hill in Washington today, and was put on the hot seat about mounting
concerns from Republicans and Democrats. Amna Nawaz has the story. And, for the record, we should note, the “PBS
NewsHour” produces some content as part of a business relationship with Facebook. AMNA NAWAZ: It’s the first appearance from
Zuckerberg on Capitol Hill since lawmakers grilled him over privacy concerns and other
issues around Cambridge Analytica a year-and-a-half ago. Zuckerberg’s testimony before the House Financial
Services Committee was ostensibly to build support for Facebook’s new cryptocurrency
project, Libra, a global digital currency originally set to launch next year. MARK ZUCKERBERG, Chairman and CEO, Facebook:
The idea behind Libra is that sending money should be as easy and secure as sending a
message. I actually don’t know if Libra is going to
work, but I believe that it’s important to try new things. I view the financial infrastructure in the
United States as outdated. AMNA NAWAZ: But that project has drawn harsh
criticism and lost support among regulators and the financial industry. REP. ANN WAGNER (R-MO): Scores of stable partners
have dropped out. Why? MARK ZUCKERBERG: Well, Congresswoman, I think
you would have to ask them specifically for their… REP. ANN WAGNER: Why do you think they dropped
out? MARK ZUCKERBERG: I think because it’s a — it’s
a risky project and I think that there’s been a lot of scrutiny. REP. ANN WAGNER: Yes, it’s a risky project. AMNA NAWAZ: Zuckerberg acknowledged the anger
surrounding Facebook. MARK ZUCKERBERG: I get that I’m not the ideal
messenger. AMNA NAWAZ: But he was hit with criticism
on multiple fronts, including his decision to allow false claims in political ads to
stay on the platform. The decision to allow this ad, which is endorsed
by President Trump and includes false statements about former Vice President Joe Biden and
his son Hunter, is drawing fierce criticism from Democrats. Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine
Waters of California grilled the Facebook CEO on the matter. REP. MAXINE WATERS (D-CA): How does this new policy
benefit you? Because it seems that a policy that allows
politicians to lie, mislead and deceive would also allow Facebook sell more ads. MARK ZUCKERBERG: From a business perspective,
the very small percent of our business that is made up of political ads doesn’t come anywhere
close to justifying the controversy that this incurs for our company. So this is really not about money. This is — on principle, I believe in giving
people a voice. REP. MAXINE WATERS: You plan on doing no fact-checking
on political ads? MARK ZUCKERBERG: We do not fact-check politicians’
speech. And the reason for that is that we believe
that, in a democracy, it is important that people can see for themselves what politicians
are saying. AMNA NAWAZ: Speaking last week at Georgetown
University, Zuckerberg strongly defended his decision to allow false or misleading ads,
on the grounds of free speech and other principles. MARK ZUCKERBERG: Now, you know, given the
sensitivity around political ads, I have considered whether we should stop allowing them altogether. Banning political ads favors incumbents and
whoever the media chooses to cover. But, practically, even if we wanted to ban
political ads, it’s not even clear where you draw the line. AMNA NAWAZ: His speech came after the Biden
campaign wrote to Facebook, Twitter and Google asking them to take down the false ad. Social media companies have been criticized
by President Trump and other Republicans as well, who feel conservative voices are silenced
on the Internet. Republican Andy Barr of Kentucky: REP. ANDY BARR (R-KY): Will you commit that Facebook
will not censor any political ad placed on your platform or in support of President Donald
Trump? MARK ZUCKERBERG: We believe that people should
be able to see for themselves what politicians are saying. That doesn’t just go for Trump. That goes for any of the candidates. REP. ANDY BARR: Don’t be bullied by politicians
who want to censor politically incorrect speech. AMNA NAWAZ: In June, the president said he
thought the U.S. should sue Facebook and Google for what he says is unfair repression of his
political messaging. DONALD TRUMP, President of the United States:
Look, we should be suing Google and Facebook and all that, which perhaps we will, OK? AMNA NAWAZ: Democratic presidential candidate
Elizabeth Warren has been taking aim at the social media giant. In a tweet, the Massachusetts senator wrote
— quote — “Facebook is actively helping Trump spread lies and misinformation. Facebook already helped elect Donald Trump
once. They might do it again, and profit off of
it.” Nearly three years after U.S. intelligence
agencies found that Russia and other adversaries used social media to influence the 2016 election,
Facebook and Instagram, along with Twitter and Google, are still grappling with how to
approach political messaging on their platforms ahead of 2020. For a closer look at these issues, I’m joined
by Vanita Gupta. She is the president and CEO of the Leadership
Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition representing 220 civil rights groups. She also served as acting assistant attorney
general and head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division under President
Obama. We have invited Mr. Zuckerberg to appear on
the program as well at a later time. Vanita Gupta, welcome back to the “NewsHour.” VANITA GUPTA, Former Assistant U.S. Attorney
General: Great to be here. AMNA NAWAZ: So let’s start with Mr. Zuckerberg’s
defense of that decision to leave political speech, including political ads, up on his
platform unchecked. He says it’s a matter of free speech, free
expression. What do you say to that? VANITA GUPTA: I think that that is a ruse. The problem with leaving politicians’ speech
unchecked, unchecked by fact-checkers, will allow massive voter suppression and misinformation
to reign on the platform. And this is a real problem. This isn’t kind of a hypothetical issue. We saw how Facebook was weaponized by foreign
actors and domestic actors in 2016. And, right now, this move to totally exempt
politicians from the same community standards that you and I would have to abide by, as
private actors, is reckless for our democracy. AMNA NAWAZ: Is it a slippery slope, though? This is another argument that he makes. If they start to police this and start to
decide what is true, what is false. Do we really want a social media company that
doesn’t have a journalistic ethos or mission to be the arbiter of what’s true and what’s
false here? VANITA GUPTA: But the reality is, Facebook
decided to do this for private citizens in the last couple of years. They recognized that they are not the government. They are a private company, therefore don’t
have the same First Amendment obligations in quite the same way. And, as a private company, they decided that
they would actually police hate speech and white supremacist speech and activity on the
platform. What is so troubling here is that they have
decided that politicians, who have historically been the very perpetrators of voter suppression
throughout our history, are going to be held to a lower standard than you and I are, as
private — as private citizens and private Americans. And that seems incredibly dangerous, in a
time where, increasingly, we have politicians that are emboldening and using the world’s
largest megaphone of this platform to basically spread lies, use fear-mongering and other
tactics to chill political participation. AMNA NAWAZ: I want to get to a couple other
concerns you have raised with them. You worked with Facebook for years, we should
point out. But you have raised concerns about their protection
of civil rights, about specific posts that can be used, for example, to discriminate
in housing matters, whether the company even has enough diversity in their own ranks. You spoken with the leadership, with both
Mr. Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg. Have you heard anything from them, either
in those conversations or in the testimony today, that says they’re going to seriously
address some of those concerns? VANITA GUPTA: So, the Leadership Conference,
the organization I work for, pushed Facebook to actually start a civil rights audit. A bunch of our organizations were pushing
for this. And over the last year, I will say, there
had been some progress made. As I said, they had announced a policy to
really combat hate on the platform. They were settling some more of the housing
litigation and announcing a policy to combat unlawful targeting, racial targeting in their
ads policies. The problem is, is, we were starting to make
a little bit of progress on voter and census — fighting — having set Facebook fight voter
and census disinformation and misinformation. But this recent announcement basically has
threatened to undermine all of that, because it allows for politicians, as I said, who
are the very perpetrators of voter suppression historically, basically to go completely without
any checks on them whatsoever. And what’s kind of created this massive cognitive
dissonance is, Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg are saying, no, no, no, Facebook
will take the elections and voter suppression very seriously. We will take down when officials might lie
about a polling location or poll hours. What they’re failing to recognize is that,
in 2019, voter suppression looks a lot more like racial appeals, like deliberate campaigns
for misinformation. You could have local officials basically do
a coordinated campaign, saying, we were going to have police officers stationed outside
of every majority black neighborhood on Election Day. Or we could have local officials or the president
say, you know what, if you fill out the census, and you’re Latino, we’re going to give your
information to ICE. And what Facebook is saying is, that’s fine. Even though it’s completeness information,
we’re going to allow that to stand. AMNA NAWAZ: I want to be clear about this,
because there is an election at stake here. They have said, based on what they learned
from the last election, they are taking specific steps to try to better protect themselves
specifically from foreign interference, for example, letting people know which news comes
from state-owned media. I hear you saying what they have done is not
nearly enough. VANITA GUPTA: Yes, they have made their protections
against foreign actors more robust, but they’re failing to recognize the degree to which domestic
actors throughout our history, but particularly now, are weaponizing misinformation and racism
to basically have — as a partisan and electoral advantage. And I think that that is dangerous. Most broadcast news, when they are — they
are posting these ads, do have to make decisions around fact-checking. They are requiring disclosures to protect
the authenticity of the speaker. And they are either putting warnings up or
quarantining ads that have — that contain misinformation like this. And — but what we are seeing is, this platform
is now being allowed to be weaponized, just as it was in 2016, by domestic actors for
exactly the kind of behavior that I think is so corrosive to our democracy. AMNA NAWAZ: Vanita Gupta, president and CEO
of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, thanks for being here. VANITA GUPTA: Thank you.

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