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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 BrownSchumer insists Democrats unified after chaotic coronavirus debate Mandel gets Club for Growth nod in Ohio Senate primary Bipartisan bill would ban lawmakers from buying, selling stocks 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 CrapoTrump announces new tranche of endorsements Biden convenes bipartisan meeting on cancer research Senate panel unanimously advances top Biden economic nominees 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 WatersProgressives grumble but won't sink relief bill over fewer stimulus checks Lawmakers, Martin Luther King III discuss federal responses to systematic racism The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Ahead: One-shot vax, easing restrictions, fiscal help 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 MnuchinBiden cautious in making Trump tax returns decision Biden brings back bipartisan meetings at the White House On The Money: Schumer urges Democrats to stick together on .9T bill | Collins rules out GOP support for Biden relief plan | Powell fights inflation fears 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 ToomeySasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote Philly GOP commissioner on censures: 'I would suggest they censure Republican elected officials who are lying' Toomey censured by several Pennsylvania county GOP committees over impeachment vote MORE (R-Pa.)

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

Sen. Catherine Cortez MastoCatherine Marie Cortez MastoDemocrats break COVID-19 impasse with deal on jobless benefits Rosen to lead Senate Democrats' efforts to support female candidates OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats reintroduce road map to carbon neutrality by 2050 | Kerry presses oil companies to tackle climate change | Biden delays transfer of sacred lands for copper mine 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.