In Brief

Zuckerberg no show at international disinformation hearing

Lawmakers from nine different countries take aim at Facebook at inaugural ‘International Grand Committee on Disinformation’ in London

Facebook has come under fire from lawmakers from nine countries at the inaugural hearing of the “International Grand Committee on Disinformation” held in London.

The landmark event saw 24 representatives from Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Ireland, Latvia, Singapore, and the UK meet to debate issues including data protection, online disinformation and fake news.

CNN says their “tough questions” highlighted the global nature of the challenges faced by Facebook.

The social network’s founder Mark Zuckerberg failed to show up to the hearing in London despite repeated requests to attend. The committee even left an open seat for the CEO, complete with a nameplate.

Charlie Angus, an MP from Canada, said: “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. So Mr Zuckerberg’s decision not to appear here at Westminster to me speaks volumes”.

Instead, members quizzed Richard Allan, the company's vice president of public policy for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, himself a former Lib Dem member of parliament.

Facebook is currently being investigated in the UK for its role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, while concerns over the social media giant’s practices, the role of political adverts and possible foreign interference in the 2016 Brexit vote and US elections are among the other topics being explored by British and European regulators.

Legal documents reviewed by Reuters show how the Commons select committee on disinformation last week obtained files relating to Facebook from app developer Six4Three.

The emails, part of a trove of sensitive documents, “could reveal whether Facebook allowed firms to exploit flaws in its privacy policies to target millions with political advertising”, says the Daily Telegraph.

Quoting one email dating back to 2014 which alleged a Facebook engineer had notified the company that Russian IP addresses were accessing “three billion data points a day” on the network, committee chair Damien Collins, asked Allen: “If Russian IP addresses were pulling down a huge amount of data from the platform was that reported or was that just kept, as so often seems to be the case, within the family and not talked about?”

The former MP said the claim was misleading and taken out of context, but Facebook later issued a statement confirming the issue was looked into and told The Guardian “the engineers who had flagged these initial concerns subsequently looked into this further and found no evidence of specific Russian activity”.

Collins did not follow through on his threat to publish all the documents obtained from Six4Three, which are currently under court seal in the US, despite hinting on Sunday he could use parliamentary privilege to shed light on “whether the policies of Facebook... are consistent with the public statements the company has made on the same issues”.

Last week, the New York Times published an in-depth investigation which claimed senior Facebook executives had “ignored warning signs” about the negative impacts of its social network, and in some cases even sought to suppress or deflect criticism about its practices.

This led to calls from several US congressmen to introduce tighter regulation of social media platforms.

Speaking at the close of yesterday’s hearing, Canada’s Charlie Angus went further, suggesting Facebook could even be broken up to help address the issues.

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