Facebook’s founder is facing pressure to accept an invite from eight international parliaments, with lawmakers wanting to question him about negative impacts his social network is having on democratic processes globally.
Last week Facebook declined a invitation from five of these parliaments.
The elected representatives of Facebook users want Mark Zuckerberg to answer questions in the wake of a string of data misuse and security scandals attached to his platform. The international parliaments have joined forces — forming a grand committee — to amp up the pressure on Facebook.
The UK-led grand committee said it would meet later this month, representing the interests of some 170 million Facebook users across Argentina, Australia, Canada, Ireland and the UK. But Facebook snubbed that invite.
Today the request has been reissued with an additional three parliaments on board — Brazil, Latvia and Singapore.
In their latest invite letter they also make it clear that Facebook’s founder does not have to attend the hearing in person — which was the excuse the company used to decline the last request for Zuckerberg. (Which was just the latest in a long string of ‘nos’ Facebook’s founder has given the committee.)
“We note that while your letter states that you are ‘not able to be in London’ on 27th, it does not rule out giving evidence per se. Would you be amenable to giving evidence via video link instead?” the grand committee writes now.
We’ve asked Facebook whether Zuckerberg will be able to make time in his schedule to provide evidence remotely — and will update this report with any response. (A company spokesman suggested to us that it’s unlikely to do so.)
Of course Zuckerberg is very busy these days — given the fresh scandals slamming Facebook’s exec team. His political plate is truly heaped.
Last week a New York Times report painted an ugly and chaotic picture of Facebook’s leaders’ response to the political disinformation crisis — which included engaging an external public relations firm which used smear tactics against opponents. (Facebook has since severed ties with the firm.)
The grand committee references this controversy in its latest invitation letter, writing: “We believe that there are important issues to be discussed, and that you are the appropriate person to answer them. Yesterday’s New York Times article raises further questions about how recent data breaches were allegedly dealt with within Facebook.”
The UK’s DCMS committee, which has been spearheading efforts to hold Zuckerberg to account, has spent the best part of this year asking wide-ranging questions about the impact of online disinformation on democratic processes. But it has become increasingly damning in its criticism of Facebook — accusing the company of evasion, equivocation and worse as the months have gone on.
In a preliminary report this summer it also called on the government to act urgently, recommending a levy on social media and stronger laws to prevent social media tools being used to undermine democratic processes.
Although the UK government chose not to leap into action. But even there Facebook’s platform is implicated because Brexit — which was itself sold to voters via the medium of unregulated social media ads (with the Electoral Commission finding earlier this year that the official Vote Leave campaign used Facebook’s funnel to bypass electoral law) — is rather monopolizing ministerial attention these days…
One of the questions committee members are keen to get an answer to from Facebook is who at the company knew in the earliest incidence about the Cambridge Analytica data misuse scandal. In short they want to know where the buck stops. Who should be held accountable — for both the massive data breach and Facebook’s internal handling of it.
And it is very close to getting an answer to that after the UK’s data protection watchdog, the ICO, gave evidence earlier this month — saying it had obtained the distribution list for emails Facebook sent internally about the breach, saying it would pass the list on to the committee.
A spokeswoman for the DCMS committee told us it has yet to receive this information from the ICO.
An ICO spokesperson told us it will not be publishing the list — adding: “At this stage I’m not sure when it will be sent to the committee.”