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Facebook’s Plans for ‘Zuck Bucks’ Crypto Rise From the Dead

Two previous attempts were abandoned amid threats of regulation.

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Rep. Brad Sherman, a Democrat from California, projects a satirical image while grilling a Facebook exec during a House Financial Services Committee hearing on the company’s proposed cryptocurrency on July 17, 2019.
Rep. Brad Sherman, a Democrat from California, projects a satirical image while grilling a Facebook exec during a House Financial Services Committee hearing on the company’s proposed cryptocurrency on July 17, 2019.
Photo: Andrew Harnik (AP)

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, is still planning to create a digital currency, according to a new report from the Financial Times. The news comes after Facebook was said to have abandoned its cryptocurrency plans this past February—a project originally called Libra when it was first announced in June of 2019, but rebranded as Diem after facing intense scrutiny from politicians around the globe.

Mark Zuckerberg’s dream to release a digital currency seemed to be nixed after politicians smelled blood in the water and grilled Facebook leadership about their plans. One congressman, Democrat Brad Sherman of California, even told a Facebook executive during hearings in 2019 that a currency being released by the tech giant would be worse than 9/11. Sherman called the hypothetical currency “Zuck Bucks,” a name that’s apparently stuck internally at Facebook.

But Zuckerberg still wants to make his fake money a reality, provided he can find a way to do it without getting heat from governments around the world. The Times writes that staffers at Meta are trying to find the “least regulated way to offer a digital currency,” a tack that shouldn’t surprise anyone coming from a CEO enamored with the phrase move fast and break things.

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Facebook declined to address whether the new report was true, delivering a vanilla statement about how the company is always striving for yadda yadda yadda.

“We have no updates to share today. We continuously consider new product innovations for people, businesses, and creators. As a company, we are focused on building for the metaverse and that includes what payments and financial services might look like,” a Meta company spokesperson told Gizmodo by email.

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Creating currencies has traditionally been the domain of governments, though private companies have dabbled in creating their own exclusive currencies in the past. The most horrendous example from the 19th century was known as company scrip, a kind of privately issued money paid to employees that could only be redeemed at company-owned stores, often in company-owned towns.

Previously, private individuals who tried to create their own currencies were shut down by the U.S. government, like the case of Liberty Dollar in the 2000s, dollars and coins created by libertarians who tried to make a currency backed by gold and silver. But creating your own currency is no longer seen as an inherently fraudulent activity, thanks to the mainstream popularity of Bitcoin and the web3 wave. Facebook wants to capitalize on that in every way possible, especially since executives have bet on the metaverse as the company’s future.

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Zuck’s plans for non-fungible tokens (NFTs), first announced in March, are apparently still happening, with Instagram possibly introducing the feature in May, according to the Times. What does that mean in practice? We still don’t know. Non-fungible tokens are little more than a receipt to a hyperlink, despite the popular misconception that they’re something akin to digital trading cards.

But all of that confusion could be the key to Facebook’s potential success with web3. No one knows what it really is, and the cryptocurrency space is filled with plenty of scammers. If Meta can launch its own token and brand it as an innocuous way to pay for trivial things, it could be a launching pad for much larger ambitions. One day you’re spending three Zuck Bucks on a new cartoon avatar and the next thing you know you’ve just bought a car on Facebook Marketplace with the same currency.

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Stephane Kasriel, the head of Meta’s finance division, reportedly wrote a memo in January, cited by the Times, that makes it clear the world’s biggest social media company wants to figure out a way to capitalize.

“We’re making changes to our product strategy and road map . . . so we can prioritize on building for the metaverse and on what payments and financial services will look like in this digital world,” Kasriel wrote, according to the Times.

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Zuck is clearly intent on making his own money. The only question is whether the third time’s the charm.

Updated with comment from Meta at 10:03 a.m. ET.