NOEL KING, HOST:
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is testifying on Capitol Hill right now, and he’s facing a tough audience. From disinformation and hate speech to its election content, his company is under pressure. Plus today he’ll need to give specifics on Facebook’s plan for a new digital currency. NPR tech correspondent Shannon Bond has the story. And I should note that Facebook is one of NPR’s financial supporters.
SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: The last time Mark Zuckerberg testified at a congressional hearing he was under fire over whether a political consulting firm used the private information of Facebook users as part of an effort to sway the 2016 election. A year and a half later, that immediate crisis has passed. But Facebook is under even more pressure and scrutiny today. Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren says Facebook has too much power.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ELIZABETH WARREN: I say it's time to break them up. Let's enforce the antitrust laws. I'm there.
WARREN: Big tech - yes, Mark Zuckerberg, I'm looking at you.
BOND: Facebook started as a place for college students to find each other. But now, it has become the world's most influential social media site and a crucial place for politicians to reach voters. Along the way, it's become vulnerable to misinformation, manipulation, propaganda. Critics say Facebook needs to take more responsibility now that it's so big.
VANITA GUPTA: There is kind of a denial of just how sweeping that role is and a real harms that the platform can have on vulnerable communities, communities of color without adequate guard rails in place.
BOND: That's Vanita Gupta, a former Justice Department official. She now heads up the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Many of her concerns will be front and center today.
Facebook has been accused of enabling discrimination through its ad tools. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has sued Facebook over this issue. The federal agency says Facebook let advertisers show or hide housing ads from users based on their race or where they live.
Nicol Turner Lee is a fellow at the Brookings Institution's Center for Technology Innovation.
NICOL TURNER LEE: In the case of Facebook, what I think we're seeing is that the tool is being used in ways that I think that they did not plan for.
BOND: Facebook says it has stopped letting advertisers target ads for housing, jobs and credit to people based on their ethnicity or where they live. And just yesterday, it pledged $1 billion for affordable housing in California.
But Facebook wants to go further into people's lives. And Zuckerberg will have to defend his plans for a new global, digital currency - Libra. Regulators worry it could be used for illegal activity like money laundering or to fund terrorism. The currency is still in the theoretical stages, but it's already in jeopardy. Just in the past couple of weeks, some crucial partners, including Visa, MasterCard and PayPal, have dropped out entirely.
MICHAEL PACHTER: Libra sounds dead on arrival.
BOND: Michael Pachter is an analyst with Wedbush Securities.
PACHTER: I don't think Facebook can pull it off without the support of all of the different banking and credit - you know, card processors and payment processors. I just don't think that they have the wherewithal to actually do it themselves.
BOND: Beyond the headline topics, members of the House Financial Services Committee will get to ask Zuckerberg about everything else on their minds too; what is the company doing to stop election interference? Is it biased against conservatives as some politicians claim? Why does it let politicians lie in ads? There may even be questions about whether Facebook should be broken up, as Elizabeth Warren is calling for, a scenario Zuckerberg roundly rejects. With Facebook on the defensive and lawmakers eager to pile on, there could be fireworks.
Shannon Bond, NPR News, San Francisco.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.