Canadian MPs joined lawmakers from nine countries Tuesday who accused Facebook, during a rare international hearing, of undermining democratic institutions.
The lawmakers were also critical of Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg for failing to show up to answer questions in Britain’s parliament about disinformation and “fake news” carried on social media websites.
Richard Allan, Facebook’s vice-president for policy solutions, was left to answer questions in London in place of Zuckerberg, who ignored repeated requests to appear at the committee.
Allan, sitting next to an empty chair reserved for Zuckerberg, said the Facebook founder and CEO had already appeared before numerous other committees this year. He acknowledged that the company has not been without blame in how it handled various scandals.
“I’m not going to disagree with you that we’ve damaged public trust with some of the actions we’ve taken,” he said.
Allan was responding to Canadian opposition New Democrat MP Charlie Angus, who said the social media giant has “lost the trust of the international community to self-police,” and that lawmakers have to start looking at ways to hold the company accountable.
“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,” said Angus, who sits on the House of Commons access to information, privacy and ethics committee.
Zuckerberg has also ignored requests to appear for testimony in Canada.
Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith also joined British lawmakers and their counterparts from Belgium, France, Brazil, Argentina, France, Singapore, Ireland and Latvia at the hearing held by the U.K. parliament’s digital, culture, media and sport committee.
Allan agreed with Erskine-Smith when he said it appeared Facebook has been negligent in not acting sooner to remove disinformation from its pages.
Zuckerberg accepts that what’s needed is “a regulatory framework and action by responsible companies like ours — it’s the two in tandem,” Allan said.
Facebook has been under fire from users and lawmakers after it said last year that Russian agents used its platform to spread disinformation before and after the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Russia has denied the allegation.
The hearing came after the committee’s chairman, Damian Collins, took the unusual move of forcing the CEO of an app maker to turn over confidential Facebook documents.
Collins said the meeting marked the first time since the 1930s that members from other parliaments have sat in on a British hearing. The last time was to discuss Indian constitutional reform.
The Associated Press