British, Canadian Parliaments Join Forces To Put Pressure On Zuckerberg

The British and Canadian parliaments have said they are planning an unusual joint hearing in order to pressure Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg to answer MPs’ questions in London.

The digital, culture, media and sport select committee of the House of Commons said it would hold the hearing with the equivalent Canadian body in Westminster at the end of November.

The committee is giving Zuckerberg until 7 November to confirm whether he will attend.

The committee said the hearing would be called the “international grand committee on disinformation and fake news”, and said it would provide Zuckerberg with an opportunity to demonstrate the company’s “accountability”.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg

‘International grand committee’

The committee is led by the UK and Canada but is “likely” to be attended by representatives of other parliaments, MP Damian Collins wrote.

Zuckerberg answered questions before the US Congress in April, and also appeared before the EU parliament’s council of presidents, but has declined to face any other parliamentary bodies in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal.

The company sent less senior staff members, including chief technical officer Mike Schroepfer, to the British Parliament.

The UK committee went so far as to threaten to issue Zuckerberg with a formal summons and to declare him in contempt of parliament if he ever sets foot in Britain again.

“We understand that it is not possible to make yourself available to all parliaments,” wrote Collins in a letter co-signed by Canadian MP Bob Zimmer. “However, 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.”

The letter said Zuckerberg’s attendance on the matter was “overdue, and urgent”.

Data scandal

Canada’s standing committee on access  to information, privacy and ethics has been investigating AggregateIQ, a British Columbia-based data company that provided online advertising services to Vote Leave during the 2016 EU referendum and has links to Cambridge Analytica.

The Parliamentary committee said the hearing would go ahead with other witnesses whether or not Zuckerberg decided to attend.

“We’ve received the committee’s letter and will respond to Mr Collins by his deadline,” Facebook said in a statement.

In presenting its most recent quarterly financial results, Facebook attempted to turn the page on the data protection and misinformation issues that have dogged it this year, but the “grand committee” indicates that the controversy may be slow to go away.

In October Facebook said it had hired former British deputy prime minister Nick Clegg as its vice president for global affairs and communications to deal with this and other issues.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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