Tech leaders faced tough questions during a hearing hosted by the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee on Wednesday.
Led by Chairman David Cicilline (D-RI), the Subcommittee levied various accusations of unfair and anticompetitive business practices against Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Apple’s Tim Cook, and Google’s Sundar Pichai.
Zuckerberg arguably faced some of the toughest grilling and threats by lawmakers.
In particular, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) suggested that Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram should never have been allowed, and that the time had come to break off the app as a separate business entity.
“Facebook … saw Instagram as a threat that could potentially siphon business away from Facebook,” Nadler said on Wednesday. “So rather than compete with it, Facebook bought it.”
In response, Zuckerberg described the acquisition as an “American success story,” and argued that Facebook was largely responsible for Instagram’s current popularity. Post-acquisition, “we invested heavily in Instagram,” he said.
Citing emails obtained by the committee, Nadler also accused Zuckerberg of describing a would-be acquisition as a way of “neutralizing a competitor,” in 2012.
In his defense, Zuckerberg said he never used those specific words at the time.
Later in the hearing, asked by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) how many rivals Facebook has “copied,” Zuckerberg said he couldn’t say.
As expected, Zuckerberg also defended Facebook by appealing to committee members’ sense of nationalism and fear of the Communist Party of China.
“Although people around the world use our products, Facebook is a proudly American company,” Facebook’s CEO said. “We believe in values -- democracy, competition, inclusion and free expression -- that the American economy was built on.”
In response to accusations of monopolizing the ad industry, Zuckerberg pointed out that, for every dollar spent on U.S. advertising, Facebook only takes about 10 cents.
Asked about the ongoing #StopHateForProfit ad boycott, Zuckerberg said, “We’re very focused on fighting against election interference and hate speech,” adding that Facebook has “build really sophisticated systems” to address both challenges.The subcommittee first launched its bipartisan investigation into what it then described as “the growth of monopoly power across our economy,” in June 2019.