Facebook fake news inquiry: Zuckerberg absent, Allan unhelpful

Facebook fake news inquiry
© iStock/amesy

Richard Allan, Facebook’s Director of Policy in Europe, appeared before MPs at a Facebook fake news inquiry yesterday to answer questions about Facebook’s role in disseminating misinformation.

In the absence of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who had refused multiple invitations to attend the Facebook fake news inquiry, Allan answered questions from representatives of nine parliaments. The “international grand committee” consisted of policymakers from the UK, Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Ireland, Latvia and Singapore; and formed a part of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee’s inquiry into fake news and disinformation.

An empty chair with Zuckerberg’s name on it was provided as a pointed rebuke. Charlie Angus, representing Canada, said: “Mr Zuckerberg’s decision to not appear here speaks volumes … when he says that the plan was to move fast and break things – and that breaking may have involved our democratic institutions – does he not think or not believe that parliamentarians will push back?”

Allan, a former Liberal Democrat MP who now has a place in the House of Lords, conceded the optics of Zuckerberg’s absence at the Facebook fake news inquiry were “not great”. He stumbled when answering MPs’ questions about Facebook’s failure to address breaches of user privacy and could not name a single app that had been banned from the platform for mishandling data.

Allan failed to answer a number of later questions on Russian theft of user data, Facebook buying out and closing down smaller app developers to restrict competition, Facebook’s failure to address hate speech and advertising targeted to white supremacists, holding political advertisers on social media accountable; and Facebook’s inflated video metrics. British MP Clive Efford suggested Allan’s inability to answer so many questions indicated that Zuckerberg needed to attend the Facebook fake news inquiry, as his knowledge of the platform would presumably be more extensive.

Representatives conducting the Facebook fake news inquiry were in agreement that the social media site is insufficiently regulated, citing concerns about the proliferation of disinformation across the platform and unregulated hate speech. Allan appeared to agree that Facebook needed stricter regulation, although the company has actively campaigned against controls on social media and is currently in the process of appealing a £500,000 fine from the UK Information Commissioner’s Office for its role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

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