We're Zuckers for a sequel: Brit MPs' battle to grill Facebook boss continues

UK and Canadian digital and privacy committees team up to snag star witness

panicked eye with Facebook logo reflected on surface

British MPs desperate to grill Mark Zuckerberg over misuse of Facebook data have teamed up with their Canadian counterparts in a last-ditch attempt to lure the boss to the first ever international "grand committee".

Mark zuckerberg in a buena vista style flat cap. Photo: shutterstock mashup

Facebook supremo Mark Zuckerberg has flunky tell UK MPs: Nope, he's sending someone else

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Ever since the Facebook data-harvesting scandal broke back in April, the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee has been eager to question Zuck as part of its "fake news" inquiry.

But the top dog isn't interested, and no amount of requests – or the threat of a formal summons the next time he steps foot in the UK – has persuaded him to sit down with the MPs.

That Zuckerberg spent 10 hours with the US Congress might have smarted, but the fact he went for a cosy roundtable chat with MEPs rubbed some serious salt into the wound for the British politicians. (Never mind that the session was so stage-managed Zuck was allowed to call it to a close himself – fuel was added to the Brit MPs' fire.)

As the UK committee sees it, Facebook has millions of wronged users in the nation and they deserve answers. Since Zuckerberg is the one running the show, it should be him – not the lackeys he sends, even if they are the CTO – who provides those answers, and defends both his firm and his previous decisions.

After a brief hiatus over the summer, the tense back-and-forth between the committee and Facebook – in which the MPs sent list after list of questions for the firm to side-step, while complaining Zuck wouldn't come – looks set to continue.

This time, the UK Parliamentarians are teaming up with their Canadian counterparts on that Parliament's Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics to host an "international grand committee" on disinformation, and they want Zuckerberg to face the music.

The logic is, presumably, strength in numbers. In a letter (PDF) to Zuck, the committee chairmen make it clear that more countries will be represented, in the hope the unprecedented nature of the event will mean it is an offer he can't refuse.

"No such joint hearing has ever been held," Brit Damian Collins and Canadian Bob Zimmer said. "Given your self-declared objective to 'fix' Facebook, and to prevent the platform’s malign use in world affairs and democratic process, we would like to give you the chance to appear at this hearing."

The missive, dripping with sarcasm, added that the pair understand the big boss can't go to every parliament... but doesn't he agree that users in countries outside the US are important too?

"We believe that your users in other countries need a line of accountability to your organisation — directly, via yourself. We would have thought that this responsibility is something that you would want to take up," they said.

"We both plan to issue final reports on this issue by the end of this December, 2018. The hearing of your evidence is now overdue, and urgent."

The call from the MPs comes as Facebook was also under pressure from two of its shareholders – Arjuna Capital and NY State – over concerns that the platform's content management practices are a threat to the firm's long-term value.

The pair have issued a shareholder request (PDF), which will be voted on at the AGM in spring 2019, calling on Facebook to publish a report that sets out its policies for dealing with content "that threatens democracy, human rights, and freedom of expression".

Natasha Lamb, managing partner at Arjuna Capital, said that Facebook owes investors a "full accounting of its response to this global crisis of confidence" that addresses and examines the "reputational, regulatory, and financial risks posed by content governance controversies".

But a small glimmer of positivity came for the Zuckerborg, in the form of a distinctly average set of results for the third quarter of 2018, as it posted a 33 per cent increase in revenues – $13.7bn up from $10.1bn – which just missed expectations.

Despite record low growth in user numbers – a small increase of 1.47 billion to 1.49 billion between June and September 2018, and a 9 per cent rise year-on-year – share prices finished about 3 per cent up.

The fact that stalled user growth and scraping revenue targets are now seen as positive shows just how much Facebook's fortunes have changed. ®

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