Damian Collins, the MP who is chair of Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, has said he could release internal Facebook emails next week, amidst an ongoing row between Parliament and the social media firm.
The disclosure follows Facebook’s decision not to send chief executive Mark Zuckerberg to attend a multinational inquiry into disinformation earlier this week, a choice greeted with derision by the nine countries who had sent envoys to the event.
Facebook has endured a year of negative headlines focusing on the platform’s use by foreign powers to spread propaganda and influence US elections, as well as Cambridge Analytica’s use of personal Facebook data for political campaign purposes.
Collins has repeatedly urged Zuckerberg to appear before Parliament, but while the chief executive travelled to a European Union summit, he has not entered the UK.
Ahead of this week’s “International Grand Committee on Disinformation”, Parliament used rarely employed powers to seize internal Facebook documents from the chief executive of a small app developer who had travelled to a business meeting in London.
The documents purportedly disclose information about loopholes in Facebook’s privacy policies that allowed Cambridge Analytica to obtain data that it later allegedly used in a 2016 US presidential election campaign, according to the Observer, which first reported the seizure.
They were obtained by the app developer as part of a lawsuit against Facebook and are under seal by a Californian court.
But Collins has claimed that privileges of parliamentary immunity intended to protect freedom of speech give him the authority to make the documents public.
He told reporters the documents would be released as soon as they were stripped of personal data, estimating this could be early next week.
This week’s hearing on disinformation was attended by lawmakers from Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Ireland, Latvia and Singapore, as well as the UK.
“We’ve never seen anything quite like Facebook, where while we were playing on our phones and apps, our democratic institutions… seem to have been upended by frat boy billionaires from California,” Canadian politician Charlie Angus told the committee.
The hearing provided an open chair for Zuckerberg, complete with a nameplate, but the firm instead sent Richard Allan, its vice president of policy solutions.
Allan, who is also a Liberal Democrat peer, said he was responsible for the decision not to send Zuckerberg to the hearing.
He said that the seized documents contain “internal conversations” and “robust comments” that it would be unfair to take as official positions of the company.
Facebook is also under fire for having hired a Washington public relations firm to smear George Soros and other opponents.
The campaign was intended to distract attention from Facebook’s own problems, The New York Times reported.
The company may soon get its wish, with Google chief executive Sundar Pichai set to appear before the US House Judiciary Committee on 5 December.
Pichai is set to discuss lawmakers’ concerns that Google’s business practices may have been affected by political bias and about its possible planned investments in China.
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