September 19, 2019
Rep. Patrick McHenry — co-chair of the Congressional Blockchain Caucus and ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee — told Cheddar on Thursday that he doesn't support using a "sledgehammer" to break up Facebook. His comments come after news that CEO Mark Zuckerberg traveled this week to D.C. to meet privately with members of Congress, including some of his critics.
"Overall, the question for Big Tech is still a real one. They have to answer a lot of questions about data and privacy. That is an overall bipartisan concern on Capitol Hill at this moment," McHenry (R-N.C.) told Cheddar.
Zuckerberg made his last public appearance inside the Beltway last year when he testified to Congress on the Cambridge Analytica scandal, as well as Facebook's data and privacy policies. Earlier this summer, David Marcus, the co-creator of Libra and the head of Facebook's associated, digital wallet Calibra, also testified in front of Senate and House lawmakers about Facebook's plans to launch a digital currency called Libra. There, he met resistance from officials who doubted whether Facebook could really be trusted with its new financial aspirations.
Big Tech has continued to face a barrage of criticism and growing threats of regulation from officials in Washington. Facebook just earned a whopping $5 billion Federal Trade Commission fine and is now under oversight from the agency for its failure to protect privacy.
Some members of Congress — most notably, presidential hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren — have even proposed breaking up the company on antitrust grounds.
McHenry, along with a slew of other Republicans, has been quick to say his colleagues are trying to shut down "innovation," echoing his comments during Marcus' hearing in front of House members.
"If you have a company control 80 percent of market-share of some major action in our economy, that creates antitrust challenges. But technology is different. Facebook is a platform. So I don't think going in and taking a sledgehammer to their service has any real public benefit," he told Cheddar. "The idea of breaking them up — at this point — is a severe overreach."
As for Facebook's proposed digital currency, he said, "I think Libra forces policy-makers here in Washington to start to understand what digital currencies do [and] what cryptocurrencies and blockchain technologies enable," he said. "First, the idea that you're going to kill an idea — a concept — is insane. And so, when we had policymakers in Washington who wanted to kill it before it could grow, I just thought it was the most absurd approach."
OpenSecrets reports that McHenry has previously received donations from Facebook, with $8,000 disbursed to his campaign in 2018.
"On Libra, there are huge questions about how it's going to be implemented, the nature of it, whether it's an actually an open distributed ledger, or some closed-off, company-controlled endeavor," said McHenry. "There's a whole host of technology questions that they haven't answered internally much less be able to communicate publicly."
In a statement to Cheddar, a Facebook spokesperson said that Zuckerberg was in D.C. to "talk about future internet regulation" with policymakers and that he had not set up any public events. Facebook would not confirm whether its CEO had plans to discuss Libra with those lawmakers.
Included in those meetings was a dinner with several senators that Facebook requested Sen. Mark Warner facilitate, according to a spokesperson for the senator.
Warner's office said the event was meant to discuss competition, elections, and "the role and responsibility of social media platforms in protecting our democracy."