Washington, Oct 23 (AP/UNB) — Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is again appearing before Congress to face questions about his company's massive market power, privacy lapses and tolerance of speech deemed false or hateful.
Zuckerberg has been summoned to testify at a hearing Wednesday by the House Financial Services Committee on Facebook's plan to create a global digital currency, which has stirred opposition from lawmakers and regulators in the U.S. and Europe. But the full range of policies and conduct of the social media giant with nearly 2.5 billion users will be under the public glare.
It's the Facebook chief's first testimony to Congress since April 2018.
The company seems to spark public and official anger at every turn these days, from its shift into messaging services that allow encrypted conversations to its alleged anticompetitive behavior to its refusal to take down phony political ads or doctored videos.
Lawmakers from both parties and top regulators — including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell — have criticized Facebook's plan for the new currency, to be called Libra. They warn that it could be used for illicit activity such as money laundering or drug trafficking.
Rep. Maxine Waters, the California Democrat who heads the Financial Services panel, this summer asked Facebook to not move forward with the currency and a digital wallet called Calibra that would be used with it. Waters has called Libra "a new Swiss-based financial system" that potentially is too big to fail and could require a taxpayer bailout.
Several high-profile companies that had signed on as partners in Facebook's governing association for Libra have recently bailed, spelling a potentially rough road for the project. But many experts don't believe it's doomed.
Zuckerberg, in written testimony prepared for the hearing, aimed to reassure lawmakers that his company won't try to evade financial regulators as it readies Libra.
Facebook "will not be a part of launching the Libra payments system anywhere in the world unless all U.S. regulators approve it," he said. That's a stronger statement than Facebook official David Marcus made to Congress in July, when he said the company will not activate Libra until it has "fully addressed regulatory concerns and received appropriate approvals." Marcus leads the Libra project.
Zuckerberg is striving to defend Libra and alleviate concerns that the currency could sidestep regulators. Analysts say Libra could avoid regulation and launch in countries where it's not getting pushback, but this doesn't appear to be Facebook's intention.
Instead, Zuckerberg is pushing an optimistic vision of Libra and what it could mean for people around the world who don't have access to bank accounts.
While some critics see the recent exodus of some Libra partners as evidence of the plan's likely failure, U.S. regulators appear to view it as enough of a threat that they are considering the possibility of the Fed launching its own competitor currency.
"At the Federal Reserve, we will continue to analyze the potential benefits and costs of central bank digital currencies, and look forward to learning from other central banks," Lael Brainard, a member of the Fed's board of governors, said in a speech last week.
There is concern among regulators that the massive reserve created with money used to buy the new currency could supplant the Fed and destabilize the financial system, and that consumers could be hurt by Libra losses.
Zuckerberg also played the China card in his remarks, urging regulators to act quickly "While we debate these issues, the rest of the world isn't waiting. China is moving quickly to launch similar ideas in the coming months," he said.
The Facebook CEO also has cited competition from China as a compelling reason against breaking up the company.
The Justice Department, the Federal Trade Commission and the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee are all conducting investigations of Facebook and the other huge tech companies amid accusations of abuse of their market power to crush competition.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a leading Democratic presidential candidate, has advocated breaking up Facebook and other tech behemoths. She recently ran a fake political ad on Facebook taking aim at Zuckerberg to protest the company's policy of not fact-checking politicians' speech or ads in the same way it enlists outside parties to fact-check news stories and other posts.
In a major speech last week at Georgetown University, Zuckerberg defended the company's refusal to take down content from its platform it considers newsworthy "even if it goes against our standards."
Facebook, Google and Twitter are trying to oversee internet content while also avoiding infringing on First Amendment rights. The pendulum has swung recently toward restricting hateful speech that could spawn violence.
With just over a year left until the 2020 U.S. presidential election, Facebook is stepping up its efforts to ensure it is not used as a tool to interfere in politics and democracies around the world.
The efforts outlined Monday include a special security tool for elected officials and candidates that monitors their accounts for hacking attempts such as login attempts from unusual locations or unverified devices. Facebook said Monday it will also label state-controlled media as such, label fact-checks more clearly and invest $2 million in media literacy projects.
The company also announced it has removed four networks of fake, misinformation-spreading accounts based in Russia and Iran. These networks sought to disrupt elections in the U.S., North Africa and Latin America, the company said. In the past year, Facebook says it has taken down 50 such clusters of accounts, a sign that efforts to use its services to disrupt elections are not letting up.
"Elections have changed significantly since 2016 and Facebook has too," CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a conference call Monday. The social network was caught embarrassingly off guard during the 2016 election, having let others use its platform to spread misinformation, manipulate voters and meddle with democracy.
The company says it will also add more prominent labels on debunked posts on Facebook as well as on Instagram. It will put labels on top of what are deemed "false" and "partly false" photos and videos. But Facebook will continue to allow politicians to run ads containing misinformation .
Critics say Facebook's measures don't go far enough and argue that the main problem is its business model, which depends on targeted advertisements and making sure that users stay engaged and entertained. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a leading Democratic presidential candidate and one of Facebook's biggest critics , has proposed breaking it up.
Facebook also says it will add more information about the people or groups who establish or manage Facebook pages. The company said Monday it has noticed groups and people "failing" to disclose the organizations behind pages so people think it is run independently. Starting with large pages in the U.S., Facebook says it is adding a new section about "organizations that manage this page."
Facebook says it will require the page's creators to add this information in order to run ads. The rule applies to pages that have gone through the company's business verification process and to pages that run ads about social issues, elections or politics. If the page creators don't post this information, they won't be allowed to advertise.
Washington, OCT 18 (AP/UNB) — Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday defended the social media platform's refusal to take down content it considers newsworthy "even if it goes against our standards." But while he promoted free expression, limitations were place on coverage of his remarks at Georgetown University.
Reporters were not allowed to ask questions — only students were given that chance, filtered by a moderator. Facebook and Georgetown barred news organizations from filming. Instead organizers provided a livestream on Georgetown's social media site and made available video shot by Facebook.
"It's quite ironic," said Sally Hubbard, director of enforcement strategy at the Open Markets Institute and a former state prosecutor. More generally, she said of Facebook, "The key to free expression is to not have one company control the flow of speech to more than 2 billion people, using algorithms that amplify disinformation in order to maximize profits."
Facebook, Google, Twitter and other companies are trying to oversee internet content while also avoiding infringing on First Amendment rights. The pendulum has swung recently toward restricting hateful speech that could spawn violence. The shift follows mass shootings in which the suspects have posted racist screeds online or otherwise expressed hateful views or streamed images of attacks.
Facebook also has come under criticism for not doing enough to filter out phony political ads.
"Right now, we're doing a very good job at getting everyone mad at us," Zuckerberg told the packed hall at Georgetown.
He said serious threats to expression are coming from places such as China, where social media platforms used by protesters are censored, and from court decisions restricting the location of internet users' data in certain countries.
"I'm here today because I believe that we must continue to stand for free expression," he said. People of varied political beliefs are trying to define expansive speech as dangerous because it could bring results they don't accept, Zuckerberg said. "I personally believe this is more dangerous to democracy in the long term than almost any speech."
Taking note of mounting criticism of the market dominance of Facebook and other tech giants, Zuckerberg acknowledged the companies' centralized power but said it's also "decentralized by putting it directly into people's hands. ... Giving people a voice and broader inclusion go hand in hand."
John Stanton, a former fellow at Georgetown who heads a group called the "Save Journalism Project," called the CEO's appearance "a joke."
Zuckerberg "is the antithesis of free expression," Stanton said in a statement. "He's thrown free speech, public education and democracy to the wayside in his thirst for power and profit."
The social media giant, with nearly 2.5 billion users around the globe, is under heavy scrutiny from lawmakers and regulators following a series of data privacy scandals, including lapses in opening the personal data of millions of users to Trump's 2016 campaign.
Facebook and other social media platforms have drawn accusations from President Donald Trump and his allies that their platforms are steeped in anti-conservative bias.
Zuckerberg recently fell into a tiff with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a leading Democratic presidential candidate, who ran a fake political ad on Facebook taking aim at the CEO. Warren has proposed breaking up big tech companies. With the phony ad, she was protesting Facebook's policy of not fact-checking politicians' speech or ads in the same way it enlists outside parties to fact-check news stories and other posts.
"We think people should be able to see for themselves," Zuckerberg responded Thursday on the fact-checking issue. "If content is newsworthy, we don't take it down even if it goes against our standards."
The social media network also rebuffed requests that it remove a misleading video ad from Trump's re-election campaign targeting Democrat Joe Biden.
A spokesman for Biden said Zuckerberg's speech was an effort "to cloak Facebook's policy in a feigned concern for free expression."
"Facebook has chosen to sell Americans' personal data to politicians looking to target them with disproven lies and conspiracy theories, crowding out the voices of working Americans," campaign spokesman Bill Russo said in a statement.
Several of the students' questions to Zuckerberg at Georgetown pointed up the conflict. One asked, if Facebook supports free speech, "why is conservative content disproportionately censored?" But another asserted that the policy of not fact-checking political ads is pro-conservative.
"I think it would be hard to be biased against both sides," Zuckerberg replied, smiling.
Asked about the handling of questions, Facebook spokeswoman Ruchika Budhjara said, "They were submitted by students as they walked into the room. And they're being picked at random by Georgetown."
San Francisco, Oct 9 (AP/UNB) — Twitter says it mistakenly used the phone numbers and email addresses people provided for security purposes to show advertisements to its users.
The company said Tuesday that it "inadvertently" used the emails and phone numbers to let advertisers match people to their own marketing lists. Twitter is not saying how many users were affected.
The company also says that it did not share personal data with advertisers or other third parties. Twitter says it fixed the problem as of September 17.
Facebook settled with the Federal Trade Commission earlier this year over its privacy missteps. In addition to a $5 billion fine, the settlement included limits on how Facebook shares data with third parties.
Facebook also agreed not to use phone numbers given for security purposes to advertise to people.
Oakland, Oct 8 (AP/UNB) — Facebook has agreed to pay $40 million to advertisers who said it inflated the amount of time its users watched videos.
The San Jose Mercury News says the California-based social media giant denied any wrongdoing in a lawsuit settlement. The settlement notice was filed Friday by the plaintiffs in Oakland federal court.
Advertisers sued Facebook in 2016 over user metrics that supposedly measured the average length of time consumers spent viewing posted video ads. The lawsuit said that the time was inflated by up to 900 percent and that helped convince advertisers to buy Facebook's video advertising services.
Facebook publicly acknowledged an error in the formula. The company denied allegations that its engineers knew about problems for more than a year and did nothing.