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Libra and Calibra: Mark Zuckerberg appears before Congress

Binoy Kampmark

It was never going to be pretty. The Facebook CEO knew in appearing before the House Financial Services Committee to answer questions on the company’s proposed cryptocurrency that a few sizeable bumps would appear.  As it turned out, much of the questioning had little to do with the Libra currency, along with its digital wallet format known as Calibra.

New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez exemplified the mood, and the method. 

“In order for us to make decisions about Libra, I think we need to kind of dig into your past behaviour and Facebook’s past behaviour with respect to our democracy.”

It was a scene made out of crudely crafted scripts, albeit mildly spiced by convention: the elevated idealist, perhaps a bit sketchy about history, speaking to the sociopathic innovator; AOC versus Robot Zuck.

In any case, the occasion begged a few questions, as does the entire issue of approaching the power of Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg.  To call it a threat to democracy is flabby logic, and distinctly lazy, given the use by Congress of that same company and its own elasticity on matters of fact.

What matters, evidently, is how strong those bonds of use are.  For Ocasio-Cortez, the issue of packing Zuckerberg in the company of the far-right somehow explains everything. 

In your ongoing dinner parties with far-right figures, some of whom advance the conspiracy theory that white supremacy is a hoax, did you discuss social media bias against conservatives, and do you believe there is a bias?”

The Facebook CEO remained non-committal.

The line being pushed here, and one that will be revisited with dreary repetition, is the notion of truthful advertising in politics.  For a member of Congress to insist that Facebook “take down lies” or otherwise is a fabulous clash of oxymoronic variables.

Once you leave it to Facebook to determine political advertising content, another beast is created, one bolstered by the fictional exercises of the “fact checker”.

Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Penn) attempted to tie a neat bow around the presidency and Facebook, asking Zuckerberg whether Facebook conducted “any business with Trump International Hotel here in Washington, D.C.” 

She had noted “public reports of enterprises and even governments doing business with Trump hotels to curry favour with the Donald Trump administration.” The whiff of conspiracy and foreign intrigue is never far away from the post-2016 Democrat.

This point is supremely feeble, if only demonstrating a certain incredulity towards an obvious fact of US business: If you want things done, or at least done in your favour, its best to be in the good books of the administration. 

Even better, keep Congress in your pocket, a practice that companies from Boeing to Chase Bank do with zealous dedication. Instead of pointing out that obvious point, Zuckerberg preferred a softly, softly approach. “Congresswoman, I will look into it with my team.”

Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) was enthusiastically grim, suggesting that the digital monster world of Facebook had devastated lives like the Grim Reaper. 

“It’s almost like you think this is a joke when you have ruined the lives of many people, discriminated against them. Do you know what percentage of African-Americans are on Facebook, in comparison to a majority of folks?” 

Zuckerberg professed ignorance: Facebook did not ask users to specify their race.

Such exchanges ignore the fundamental point that Facebook is voracious, its reach and keenness to identify what it calls “communities” insatiable.  The chicken and egg problem presents itself: is the company generating a fictional community to control, or merely furnishing pre-existing communities with the means of engagement?

A clue was supplied back in 2015, when Facebook commissioned IPSOS MediaCT to conduct a study on “how African Americans communicate and consume media”.  Of particular interest was the versatile movement between platforms and devices in efforts to “connect to community and sustain culture.” 

With some sense of contentment, it was found that Facebook was the “go-to source for connecting with” an extended family comprising immediate members, church groups and close friends. 

Nearly 9 out of 10 African Americans use Facebook to keep up with friends and family, and 7 out of 10 use it to observe what friends and family are doing.”

Much of that reads like deodorised marketing tinged with a dash of the sinister, and should be treated as such, but such encounters as those between Beatty and Zuckerberg look all too much like strawman shows rather than cerebral jousts over policy.

Other axes were brought forth to grind.

Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) levelled a few blows against Zuckerberg for being an “accelerant in many of the destructive” political confrontations across the globe.  (That naughty business of interference, otherwise casual in the policy of the US imperium.) Republican Rep. Ann Wagner from Missouri got heavy on the issue of online child exploitation while Democrat Rep. William Lacy Clay from the same state trod over ground on discrimination against various communities.

Facebook is an engine for facile, commodified social relations, the product of an asocial being who had to find his understanding of humanity through something called a “social network”.  Its genius lies in mining the confessional, the exposure, the ridiculousness of humans who are garrulous behind the screen and forthcoming on it. It brings out the voyeur in its users and gives substance a profound shallowness. 

Little wonder that politicians both adore and dread the medium, using it one day to promote messages in the illusion of feeling closer to their constituents, and condemning it as being distinctly unprincipled and undemocratic the next.

For one, the manipulation of politics, the buying of votes, the wooing of legislatures, never began, nor will stop, with Facebook.  Facebook is merely the acid manifestation of a long-term problem with managerial democracy, doomed to a slow and cruel death at the hand of amoral apparatchiks. 

Cambridge Analytica was not a revolutionary in the field, merely a successor to the public relations creatures that had come into gold with data mining and personality profiling.

Ironically enough, Zuckerberg’s under six-hour hearing absorbed much in the way of questions without giving much away.  But on Libra, the main reason for his showing, he struggled. How would the company make money from Libra? How would the external Libra Association be fuelled?  (To date, the 21 companies in the association have yet to fork out the minimum $10 million entry fee, suggesting the possibility of Facebook going alone.)

As Alex Heath noted, “Zuckerberg’s testimony didn’t shed any light on what specific laws Facebook thinks should govern Libra.”

Much more time might have been expended on that instead of lobbing grenades at Big Bad Zuck, lies, identity politics and all.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: [email protected]

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Hana Sift
Hana Sift
Jun 13, 2023 3:41 AM

Something is happening, but what it is, I cannot say. Were it not for Mark Carney’s support of Zuckerberg, this conversation would be complete nonsense. In his keynote address at Jackson Hole…the Central Banker’s symposium…on August 23rd, he specifically called out Libra. The “Synthetic Hegemonic Currency” can be replaced with some other centralized cryptocurrency off guardian

Jo Emily
Jo Emily
Aug 20, 2020 5:49 AM

If you do not like the present, then change, we all have only one human life with the length of each breath.
shell shockers

Frank Speaker
Frank Speaker
Oct 27, 2019 3:56 PM

AOC is the Establishment’s official anti-Establishment candidate. Best to ignore her totally.

davemass
davemass
Oct 27, 2019 6:54 AM

Don’t use it.
I use LINE from Japan, does the same thing…
Don’t use Twitter eiher.
I have a life…

Grafter
Grafter
Oct 26, 2019 9:05 AM

AOC is and always has been atrocious

Grafter
Grafter
Oct 26, 2019 10:23 AM
Reply to  Grafter

Please change your pseudonym. Thankyou.

Jihadi Colin
Jihadi Colin
Oct 27, 2019 2:27 PM
Reply to  Grafter

To what, Grifter?

Petra Liverani
Petra Liverani
Oct 26, 2019 11:05 PM
Reply to  Grafter

Amen.

UreKismet
UreKismet
Oct 27, 2019 7:47 AM
Reply to  Grafter

Does she comprehend that Capitol Hill is antithetical to the chance of real change? Not really, as with many 2nd n 3rd generation citizens there is likely still a residue of the lies her forebears were fed during and after their migration. For me that means there is still a chance of her going either way; that is continuing to fight until she realises that what she believes in, just cannot be won outta one of the deepest & most ‘nutritious’ troughs the world has on offer so she must take the fight to other fronts, or yeah, she could realise that the odds of landing in a paddock as good as the one she has already jagged are next to impossible, so she better knuckle down and become the trustworthy, never-to-be-trusted, senior member of the faux-left faction of the corporate Dem Party. I acknowledge that every move this congressperson… Read more »

Antonym
Antonym
Oct 26, 2019 3:26 AM

The fact that the Democrats employed their joker AOC implies that are effectively already in the deep pocket of Facebook as she will mess up knowing her emotional outbursts.

UreKismet
UreKismet
Oct 26, 2019 12:08 AM

I simply don’t have sufficient interest in kabuki DC style to watch all 6 hours of the Zuckerberg hearing but it seems to me that facebook gave congress what they wanted. This will be no revolutionary new currency it will sit alongside the $USD, content to keep the petrodollar propped, observant of amerika’s sieges/sanctions and even less secure than bitcoin in terms of maintaining anonymity. Given both Paypal & Facebook’s US intelligence connection via Palantir seed funding, it was natural rather than unusual that Paypal would be the first ‘banking’ corporation to temporarily pull the pin on Libra (Visa mastercard plus all the other huge leeches followed suit within 24 hours)until a deal was seen to be publicly, allegedly unwillingly, done with the borg. Since bitcoin was copied by copious but hugely under capitalised (in the opinion of bankers who don’t wanna contemplate a successful crypto currency they dont own)… Read more »

BigB
BigB
Oct 25, 2019 9:37 PM

There is something going on here: I just can’t quite pick it. This would be a bullshit exchange: were Mark Carney not backing Zuckerberg. On the 23rd August: he mentioned Libra by name in his keynote speech at Jackson Hole …the Central Banker’s symposium. As an alternative to the “Synthetic Hegemonic Currency” a yet to be specified centralised cryptocurrency. The outline is relatively simple. The global reserve currency is conflicted if it is a national currency as well. This is known as the Triffin Paradox. What is good for global trade is bad for the state currency: and vice-versa. This leads to unsteady ‘boom-and-bust’ trade cycles and uneven development. When the dollar is relatively ‘weak’: too many dollars end up in the current balances of the Emerging Market Economies (EMEs). When the dollar strengthens: the EMEs hold onto their dollars – which creates a ‘global savings glut’ and a dollar… Read more »

Igor
Igor
Oct 27, 2019 12:02 AM
Reply to  BigB

Backed by world reserve fiat backed by central banks’ promises.
The global Ponzi scheme ratchets up a notch.

Andy
Andy
Oct 25, 2019 6:52 PM

‘To call it a threat to democracy is flabby logic’…how? Hypocracy does not dispute the logic. Any global system, with control in the hands of a few, or one person, can threaten democratic accountability. This seems a given?

UreKismet
UreKismet
Oct 25, 2019 11:36 PM
Reply to  Andy

Perhaps because as Kampmark suggests, the dodgy vote buying/fake news/voter suppression moves attributed to facebook did not come into existence through facebook, they have been around since amerikans first voted and congress pretending otherwise is hypocrisy.