Facebook has once again eschewed a direct request from the UK parliament for its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, to testify to a committee investigating online disinformation — without rustling up so much as a fig-leaf-sized excuse to explain why the founder of one of the world’s most used technology platforms can’t squeeze a video call into his busy schedule and spare UK politicians’ blushes.
Which tells you pretty much all you need to know about where the balance of power lies in the global game of (essentially unregulated) U.S. tech platforms giants vs (essentially powerless) foreign political jurisdictions.
At the end of an 18-page letter sent to the DCMS committee yesterday — in which Facebook’s UK head of public policy, Rebecca Stimson, provides a point-by-point response to the almost 40 questions the committee said had not been adequately addressed by CTO Mike Schroepfer in a prior hearing last month — Facebook professes itself disappointed that the CTO’s grilling was not deemed sufficient by the committee.
“While Mark Zuckerberg has no plans to meet with the Committee or travel to the UK at the present time, we fully recognize the seriousness of these issues and remain committed to providing any additional information required for their enquiry into fake news,” she adds.
So, in other words, Facebook has served up another big fat ‘no’ to the renewed request for Zuckerberg to testify — after also denying a request for him to appear before it in March, when it instead sent Schroepfer to claim to be unable to answer MPs’ questions.
At the start of this month committee chair Damian Collins wrote to Facebook saying he hoped Zuckerberg would voluntarily agree to answer questions. But the MP also took the unprecedented step of warning that if the Facebook founder did not do so the committee would issue a formal summons for him to appear the next time Zuckerberg steps foot in the UK.
Hence, presumably, that addendum line in Stimson’s letter — saying the Facebook CEO has no plans to travel to the UK “at the present time”.
The committee of course has zero powers to comply testimony from a non-UK national who is resident outside the UK — even though the platform he controls does plenty of business within the UK.
Last month Schroepfer faced five hours of close and at times angry questions from the committee, with members accusing his employer of lacking integrity and displaying a pattern of intentionally deceptive behavior.
The committee has been specifically asking Facebook to provide it with information related to the UK’s 2016 EU referendum for months — and complaining the company has narrowly interpreted its requests to sidestep a thorough investigation.
More recently research carried out by the Tow Center unearthed Russian-bought UK targeted immigration ads relevant to the Brexit referendum among a cache Facebook had provided to Congress — which the company had not disclosed to the UK committee.