Democrat Sherrod Brown torches Facebook at hearing: They 'broke journalism,' 'helped incite a genocide'

Democrat Sherrod Brown torches Facebook at hearing: They 'broke journalism,' 'helped incite a genocide'
© Greg Nash

The top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee said Tuesday that it would be “crazy” to allow Facebook to launch a cryptocurrency payment platform, arguing that the “dangerous” social media company cannot be trusted as part of the global financial system.

Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownBoth sides have reason to want speedy Trump impeachment trial Lawmakers battle over future of Ex-Im Bank Hillicon Valley: Senate Dems unveil privacy bill | Trump campaign, RNC rip Google political ad policy | Activists form national coalition to take on Amazon | Commerce issues rule to secure communications supply chain MORE (D-Ohio) argued that “Facebook has demonstrated through scandal after scandal that it doesn't deserve our trust” to operate Project Libra, its proposed payment network based on a proprietary cryptocurrency.

“Their motto has been move fast and break things. They certainly have,” Brown said. "They moved fast and broke journalism. They moved fast and helped incite a genocide," referring to the Myanmar military's use of Facebook to incite a genocide against the country's Muslim Rohingya minority group in 2018.

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“It takes a breathtaking amount of arrogance to look at that track record and think, 'You know, really what we really ought to do next? Let's run our own bank and our own for-profit version of the Federal Reserve. Let’s do it for the whole world.' "

David Marcus, head of Calibra and a lead on Facebook’s involvement with the Libra Association., acknowledged that "there were serious legitimate concerns" expressed by top Washington officials and that he "will commit again to do what it takes to address these concerns."

"And if those concerns are not addressed, and if the regulatory oversight is not appropriate, then we will not launch until it is," Marcus continued.

Brown’s scathing criticism, delivered during the opening of the Banking Committee’s hearing on Project Libra, highlights the depth of the skepticism and distrust surrounding Facebook as the social media giant eyes the financial services industry.

Lawmakers and regulators in both parties have expressed serious concerns about how Facebook’s massive network and series of privacy breaches could influence the global financial system. 

Facebook agreed to a $5 billion settlement last week with the Federal Trade Commission over a slew of consumer protection and privacy violations after being penalized for similar charges by the regulator in 2011.

Libra will be run by a Swiss nonprofit separate from Facebook and backed by dozens of major corporations, including the social media company. But Facebook will also operate Calibra, a digital wallet for the Libra system, through a subsidiary company, raising concerns about potential connections between the social network and payments system.

Sen. Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoThe job no GOP senator wants: 'I'd rather have a root canal' Lawmakers battle over future of Ex-Im Bank Eleven GOP senators sign open letter backing Sessions's comeback bid MORE (R-Idaho), chairman of the Banking Committee, said he wanted greater detail on how Libra would comply with anti-money laundering laws, protect consumer privacy and handle data and user information from Facebook. 

Rep. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersDemocrats could introduce articles of impeachment next week What are not criteria for impeachment? Fed's top regulator takes heat from both parties MORE (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, has called on Facebook to suspend Libra until regulators and lawmakers are satisfied. She’s also circulating a bill that would ban the project all together.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said last week that Facebook poses “serious concerns” for the global economy and financial stability, and may need to be placed under strict federal supervision. 

And Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinWorld Bank approves billion-plus annual China lending plan despite US objections On The Money: Congress races to beat deadline on shutdown | Trump asks Supreme Court to shield financial records from House Democrats | House passes bill to explicitly ban insider trading Hillicon Valley: Pelosi works to remove legal protections for tech companies from USMCA | Treasury sanctions Russian group over 0 million hack | Facebook sues Chinese individuals for ad fraud | Huawei takes legal action against FCC MORE said Monday that he too fears how Libra and other cryptocurrencies could be used for illicit finance and money laundering. 

Marcus told lawmakers that Libra and its governing body, the Libra Association, were designed to be independent of Facebook and sought to distance the payments system from the social network.

But Marcus ceded that Facebook must "work hard" to earn the trust for lawmakers Libra to be successful.

Other senators appeared more receptive to Libra and warned against efforts to snuff it out before it could even develop.

"It strikes me as wildly premature for us to come to the conclusion that we have to act now to prevent what could be a very constructive innovation in financial services," said Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyNSA improperly collected US phone records in October, new documents show Overnight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general WH backpedals on Trump's 'due process' remark on guns MORE (R-Pa.)

"I think there are tremendous potential benefits in blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies."

Sen. Catherine Cortez MastoCatherine Marie Cortez MastoDemocrats challenge South Carolina law requiring voters to disclose Social Security numbers Bicameral group of Democrats introduces bill to protect immigrant laborers House and Senate Dems implore McConnell to sign DACA legislation to protect 'Dreamers' MORE (D-Nev.) added that Libra is "exciting" and "very innovative for all of us" before seeking clarity on how the system would comply with federal anti-money laundering and illicit finance regulations.

Updated at 3:08 p.m.