Facebook: Politicians will not get special privileges

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg was grilled by lawmakers during a congressional hearing on Wednesday, which was largely addressing the social media company’s plans to launch its own cryptocurrency, Libra.

Zuckerberg conceded there were concerns about the project, but insisted they were being looked at and vowed the project would not proceed without the explicit approval of U.S. financial regulators.

He also warned that China was proceeding with a similar project. “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 told the hearing.

“The vision here is to make it so that people can send money to each other as easily and cheaply as it is sending a text message,” Zuckerberg, in likening the project to Pay Pal, explained.

The discussion on Libra however strayed into other areas, including the question of whether Facebook should be broken up, and in particular it’s dominance, and policies on privacy and protection of users’ profiles.

The Facebook chief was repeatedly asked whether his company would censor political content, “remove lies,” or block accounts of people like Donald Trump. Zuckerberg each time insisted it was not Facebook’s role to be controlling what politicians could say, but rather people (the public) should be able to see, hear, and decide for themselves the merits of the comments they make.

On Monday, two days ahead of the social media giant’s Congressional appearance, the group issued a wide-ranging statement advising of what it was doing to limit influence by foreign governments in elections.

“Over the last three years, we’ve worked to identify new and emerging threats and remove coordinated inauthentic behavior across our apps. In the past year alone, we’ve taken down over 50 networks worldwide, many ahead of major democratic elections,” Guy Rosen, VP of Integrity; Katie Harbath, Public Policy Director, Global Elections; Nathaniel Gleicher, Head of Cybersecurity Policy and Rob Leathern, Director of Product Management said in a joint statement.

“As part of our effort to counter foreign influence campaigns, this morning we removed four separate networks of accounts, Pages and Groups on Facebook and Instagram for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior. Three of them originated in Iran and one in Russia. They targeted the U.S., North Africa and Latin America. We have identified these manipulation campaigns as part of our internal investigations into suspected Iran-linked inauthentic behavior, as well as ongoing proactive work ahead of the US elections.”

“We took down these networks based on their behavior, not the content they posted. In each case, the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves, and that was the basis for our action. We have shared our findings with law enforcement and industry partners. More details can be found here,” the Facebook joint officials’ statement said.

“As we’ve improved our ability to disrupt these operations, we’ve also built a deeper understanding of different threats and how best to counter them. We investigate and enforce against any type of inauthentic behavior.

“However, the most appropriate way to respond to someone boosting the popularity of their posts in their own country may not be the best way to counter foreign interference. That’s why we’re updating our inauthentic behavior policy to clarify how we deal with the range of deceptive practices we see on our platforms, whether foreign or domestic, state or non-state.’

“Today, we’re launching Facebook Protect to further secure the accounts of elected officials, candidates, their staff and others who may be particularly vulnerable to targeting by hackers and foreign adversaries,”the Facebook statement released on Monday said. “As we’ve seen in past elections, they can be targets of malicious activity. However, because campaigns are generally run for a short period of time, we don’t always know who these campaign-affiliated people are, making it harder to help protect them.”