Facebook Needs Regulation and Code Of Ethics, Say MPs


Zuckerberg pays for failing to appear before MPs as influential committee hands out tough recommendations

Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg have been hit with severe criticisms from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (DCMS), over the spread of fake news.

The DCMS has very publicly rebuked Zuckerberg for failing to show “leadership or personal responsibility” over fake news, and has called for much tougher regulation of the social network as well as a ‘code of ethics’ for all social networking platforms.

Zuckerberg did not endear himself to the DCMS committee last year, when he refused to appear before the Parliamentary committee in the wake of Cambridge Analytica data sharing scandal.

Back story

Zuckerberg’s refusal had angered the committee, especially after Damian Collins MP, who heads the committee, had written to Mr Zuckerberg personally, requesting that he appear.

Zuckerberg decided instead to send his chief technical officer, Mike Schroepfer, to appear before the DCMS. Yet Zuckerberg did choose to appear before the European Parliament as well as US lawmakers on multiple occansions.

This refusal to attend saw the British Parliament exacted a measure of revenge last November against Zuckerberg after it seized American court documents using a little known law.

That case involved the boss of US tech firm Six4Three, whilst he was on a trip to London. Six4Three is fighting Facebook in a Californian court, where it obtained the documents via US disclosure laws.

The House of Commons serjeant-at-arms reportedly went to the businessman’s hotel, and gave the CEO a final warning and a two-hour deadline to comply with the order.

When the Six4Three CEO failed to hand over the documents he was reportedly “escorted to Parliament” and warned he risked fines and imprisonment if the documents were not surrendered.

And the DCMS said these siezed documents were very revealing.

“The evidence that we obtained from the Six4Three court documents indicates that Facebook was willing to override its users’ privacy settings in order to transfer data to some app developers, to charge high prices in advertising to some developers, for the exchange of that data, and to starve some developers – such as Six4Three – of that data,” said the DCMS.

DCMS report

And in there was further conclusions in the DCMS report, after a series of tough recommendations were made about Facebook and others (but mostly Facebook).

“Social media companies cannot hide behind the claim of being merely a ‘platform’ and maintain that they have no responsibility themselves in regulating the content of their sites,” said the report.

“By choosing not to appear before the Committee and by choosing not to respond personally to any of our invitations, Mark Zuckerberg has shown contempt towards both the UK Parliament and the ‘International Grand Committee’, involving members from nine legislatures from around the world,” the report added.

“Our Interim Report recommended that clear legal liabilities should be established for tech companies to act against harmful or illegal content on their sites,” the report stated. “There is now an urgent need to establish independent regulation. We believe that a compulsory Code of Ethics should be established, overseen by an independent regulator, setting out what constitutes harmful content.”

Facebook reportedly welcomed the digital select committee’s report and said it would be open to “meaningful regulation”.

Social regulator

This tough stance on Facebook sentiment was echoed last November by the British information commissioner, who lambasted the “disturbing disregard” for the personal privacy of voters demonstrated by Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and other firms.

She said their practices require a new regulatory model to be brought in.

And last week by Labour’s Tom Watson, also called for a new regulator to police social networking firms and threatened to break up these digital monopolies, but without revealing how he could do so against mostly American-based firms.

In October, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) had fined Facebook £500,000, the maximum under applicable data protection laws, for its part in passing data on 87 million users to Cambridge Analytica.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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