Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will tell House lawmakers Wednesday that he’s willing to postpone the launch of the controversial digital currency that the social media giant is spearheading, amid growing pushback from policymakers around the world.
Facebook and its partners working to launch the Libra payments network have been planning to start offering it to users next year. But Zuckerberg signalled he was open to taking more time, the latest indicator that regulatory hurdles are imperilling efforts to get Libra off the ground.
“Some have suggested that we intend to circumvent regulators and regulations,” Zuckerberg said in prepared remarks for a hearing Wednesday morning called by the House Financial Services Committee. “We want to be clear: Facebook will not be a part of launching the Libra payments system anywhere in the world unless all U.S. regulators approve it. And we support Libra delaying its launch until it has fully addressed U.S. regulatory concerns.”
Zuckerberg is testifying at a critical time for Libra and for Facebook. The cryptocurrency project, first announced in June with backing from major financial industry players, lost the support of Visa, Mastercard, PayPal and other established payments and technology companies earlier this month. The companies walked back their initial commitments to join the Libra Association, a Switzerland-based organization that will be tasked with managing the digital currency.
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Libra has been unable to escape the political baggage piling up at Facebook, which is under fire for privacy missteps, facilitating foreign interference in U.S. elections and its handling of political ads.
The climate on Capitol Hill has turned hostile to big tech. With that backdrop, Facebook has said in recent days that it no longer plans to be the face of Libra and that its Libra Association partners will take on a more prominent role in defending the project.
“I believe this is something that needs to get built, but I understand we’re not the ideal messenger right now,” Zuckerberg said in his prepared testimony. “We’ve faced a lot of issues over the past few years, and I’m sure people wish it was anyone but Facebook putting this idea forward.”
Zuckerberg will try to appeal to lawmakers’ sense of patriotism in his defense of Libra, which regulators have warned could pose serious risks to consumers and the broader financial system.
“While we debate these issues, the rest of the world isn’t waiting,” he said. “China is moving quickly to launch similar ideas in the coming months. Libra will be backed mostly by dollars and I believe it will extend America’s financial leadership as well as our democratic values and oversight around the world. If America doesn’t innovate, our financial leadership is not guaranteed.”