Journalism of Courage

Global lawmakers turn up heat on Facebook

The international hearing underscores how broadly anger with the social network has spread around the

In an international hearing held at the British parliament Tuesday, lawmakers from eight countries spent two hours grilling a senior Facebook executive over the social networking giant’s role in misinformation, election meddling and the company’s oversized role in Western democracy.

With an empty chair standing in for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who declined an invitation to attend the event, lawmakers channeled their outrage at Richard Allan, Facebook’s vice president of policy solutions and a member of the British House of Lords. Questions ranged from whether the tech giant should be broken up to the need for curtailing its data collection practices.

Allan appeared to come closest to cracking when asked by one of the lawmakers what it looked like when the company’s 34-year-old boss failed to show up for a hearing with politicians from countries whose combined Facebook user numbers totalled more than 400 million people, or more than the population of the United States.

Allan’s short response, which received laughter from the packed U.K. parliamentary hearing room, was: “Not great.”

They chastised Facebook for not doing enough to tackle the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal, to stop misinformation from spreading during electoral campaigns, and to be sufficiently transparent at corporate practices that many said have been left wanting.

“Political accounts have had an influence on elections,” Julie Elliot, a British MP, told the hearing. “They have destabilized democracies.”

 

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