Zuckerberg Fails To Impress At European Parliament

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

MEPs reportedly left underwhelmed after Facebook’s CEO long-awaited appearance at ‘rambling’ EU meeting

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has made his long-awaited appearance on this side of the Atlantic when he appeared before the European Parliament on Tuesday afternoon.

The visit by the Facebook founder had been intended as a closed door meeting, but after protests, it was agreed this week that it would be broadcast live.

However, according to media reports, Zuckerberg did not emerge as unscathed as he had when he appeared before two committees in the US Senate over the Cambridge data sharing scandal.

data centre

Rambling process

This was in part down to what the Guardian newspaper described as a rambling format of the European Parliament meeting,.

Essentially Zuckerberg had to listen to all questions from the leaders of the European Parliament’s various political groups, before he could answer.

This gave Zuckerberg the chance to pick and choose which he would give answers to.

Indeed, the visit “saw the leaders of pan-European political groupings take it in turns to pose dozens of separate questions on wildly different topics, some of which were incisive and some of which involved oblique references to the literature of Goethe,” reported the Guardian.

Zuckerberg reportedly apologised (again) for the way his platform had been used, but he said it was “crazy” to suggest that fake news on his platform had contributed to the election of Donald Trump.

However, he suggested any problems could be fixed through new technology and an investment in extra staff.

But matters were not helped when Nigel Farage expressed his concern about the impact Facebook’s recent algorithm changes, which he felt could have on his ability to reach the public.

Far right groups are said to be concerned that the algorithm changes to remove hate speech and fake news, reflect an alleged attempt by Facebook to show more liberal news.

Indeed, Mark Zuckerberg did not appear at all pleased when the former UKip leader praised the role that social networks such as Facebook played in the triumph of Donald Trump and the vote for Brexit.

No answers

Another MEP questioned Zuckerberg over the monopoly position Facebook allegedly occupies.

“I think it is time to discuss breaking Facebook’s monopoly, because it’s already too much power in one hand,” Germany’s Manfred Weber MEP reportedly said. “I ask you simply, and that is my final question: can you convince me not to do so?”

Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt, who had threatened not to attend if the meeting was held behind closed doors, asked whether Zuckerberg would be willing to sell Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp if it meant his company was able to retain control of the main social network and Instagram.

Verhofstadt also asked Zuckerberg if he wanted to be remembered as “the genius who created a digital monster”, a question which the Facebook boss did not answer.

Zuckerberg also did not respond to these questions about whether Facebook was a monopoly and how it plans to use data from its WhatsApp division.

After an hour of this process, Zuckerberg then gave a speech.

Missed opportunity

One leading UK politician later said the session at the European Parliament had been a “missed opportunity”.

“Unfortunately the format of questioning allowed Mr Zuckerberg to cherry-pick his responses and not respond to each individual point,” Damian Collins, chair of the UK Parliament’s Digital Culture Media and Sport Committee was quoted as saying by the BBC.

Collins is understandably feeling a little put out after Zuckerberg refused to face British MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee to answer questions over data abuse.

Earlier this week the Committee lamented the testimony of a Facebook executive, saying that the US social network has continued to leave “significant gaps” in answers it has provided to British MPs.

Facebook meanwhile has agreed to apply the EU’s data protection measures to European citizens, but will apparently exclude 1.5 billion users residing in Africa, Asia, Australia and Latin America.

Zuckerberg confirmed to MEPs that Facebook will be GDPR complaint by the 25 May deadline on Friday.

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