Pressure grows on Facebook chief Zuckerberg to answer questions about fake news

Politicians from around the world have called for Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to answer questions about his platform’s role in the spread of disinformation and fake news.

Senior figures from Ireland, Australia and Argentina have come together after Facebook refused the request from the UK and Canada for Mr Zuckerberg to appear before an “international grand committee” on the subject scheduled for November 27.

Damian Collins, chairman of Britain's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee, said Mr Zuckerberg’s response “is not good enough”.

“By dismissing our request, Facebook is failing to acknowledge its line of accountability not only to legislators, but to its users worldwide.

“There remain serious questions to be answered about what measures Facebook is taking now to halt the spread of disinformation on its platform and protection for user data.”

In declining the initial request, sent on October 31, Facebook UK’s head of public policy Rebecca Stimson said the company will “continue to co-operate fully with relevant regulators”.

She wrote: “As your letter states, it is not possible for Mr Zuckerberg to be available to all parliaments.

“While he is unable to accept your invitation we continue to fully recognise the seriousness of these issues and remain committed to working with you to provide any additional relevant information you require for your respective inquiries.”

Facebook has grappled with a string of scandals in recent years as evidence has emerged of political actors using the network to influence voters around the world.

The social media giant was fined £500,000 (€572,000) by the UK's Information Commissioner’s Office in July, the maximum fine possible, for failing to protect millions of users’ personal information which ended up in the hands of controversial election consultants Cambridge Analytica.

A week later the UK's Electoral Commission fined Brexit campaign groups Vote Leave and BeLeave, and referred them to police for breaches in campaign spending centred around political advertising on Facebook.

This year, the company also released details of “inauthentic co-ordinated activity” on the platform originating from Russia and Iran which targeted British and American politics.

The new letter said: “You appeared before committees of the US Congress and Senate, as well as the European Parliament.

“As the chairs of the relevant committees in the UK, Canadian, Australian, Argentinian and Irish parliaments, we believe that you owe Facebook users in our countries the same line of accountability.”

Mr Collins and Bob Zimmer, chairman of the Canadian parliament’s committee on access to information, are joined in the letter by Hildegarde Naughton, head of the joint committee on communications, climate action and environment in Ireland, Leopoldo Moreau, president of the committee on freedom of expression of the chamber of deputies in Argentina and James McGrath, chairman of the joint standing committee on electoral matters in Australia.

They have given Mr Zuckerberg until November 12 to respond.

Mr Collins said: “Mark Zuckerberg has set himself the personal challenge of ‘fixing’ Facebook this year to prevent its misuse in our democratic process.

“By being unwilling to face questions about his progress, doubts about his ability to do so remain.”

- Press Association

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