Politicians from nine countries have slammed Mark Zuckerberg’s decision not to appear in front of a British parliamentary hearing to answer questions on fake news and misinformation – a session that included a surprising reference to Casablanca and a bizarre tale of how a bikini-searching photo app lead to Facebook’s latest privacy woes.
Zuckerberg was empty chaired by Britain’s Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sport’s Select Committee in a session in the Houses of Parliament, although 24 official representatives from nine countries, including the UK and Canada, grilled Richard Allan, Vice President of Policy Solutions at the social media giant for close to three hours.
“One question: where is Mark Zuckerberg?,” noted the agency. Committee chief Damian Collins added, “We were rather hoping your boss would appear”, while one MP accused the Silicon Valley company of being run by “frat boy billionaires from California”.
It is the latest battle between Facebook and UK authorities after British politicians have repeatedly tried to get Zuckerberg to answer questions around data and privacy. It comes after Parliament seized a raft of internal Facebook documents from Six4Three, a company that operates a bikini app via the social media service.
Early on in proceedings with Allan, Ian C. Lucas, a Labour MP, compared Facebook’s privacy controls to the famous scene in Casablanca, where Renault closes the café due to gambling before being handed his winnings from a croupier.
Allan admitted that the revelations that Facebook hired consulting firm Definers, who propelled George Soros-related conspiracies, had damaged the public trust in the social media platform. “[Mark] Zuckerberg said himself that was not what he expected of us; Elliot Schrage said he was publicly responsible, and [Mark] Zuckerberg has given us instructions to look at all relationships we have,” he said, adding that Zuckerberg was leading reviews on Facebook’s engineering product.
Allan, who also sits in the House of Lords, said that the company was now looking at rolling out transparency tools around political advertising globally. He also said that it had published “several reports” about attempts by Russian and Iranian operatives to spread false information on Facebook.
However, he accused Six4Three, the company that handed over a slew of documents about Facebook’s privacy strategy, of being a “hostile litigant”. This comes after it emerged that Facebook had discovered that Russians had been accessing information via third party developers.
“[Six4Three’s] beef rests on us making the changes that you all want us to change. When we changed the API, they lost access to the friends data, and they launched a series of lawsuits,” said Allan. “Their app was – I was not a user – it promised to help you find photos of your friends wearing bikinis.”
The hearing included a group of politicians from around the world including Brazil, Argentina, Canada, Ireland, Latvia and Singapore, a rare move for the British parliament. Collins said it was the first time that such a group had come together since the 1930s.
“This shows just how seriously we take these issues, as do our colleagues from other parliaments,” he added.