Appearing before members of the European Parliament yesterday evening, Mark Zuckerberg was accused of “cherry picking” questions. The Facebook CEO apologised to MEP’s in the hearing for Facebook’s lack of action on data harvesting and shadowy operations, however his answers left politicians frustrated at the format of the hearing.
MP’s investigating the scandal also highlighted their growing frustration that the Facebook CEO has still not made an appearance in the UK.
The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee has been investigating Facebook’s role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, but as of yet Mark Zuckerberg has not travelled to the UK despite having testified before committees in the US Senate and European Parliament. Damian Collins, Chair of the committee launched a scathing attack on Zuckerberg yesterday evening, claiming that he “cherry picked” questions and dodged giving concrete answers.
He said: “What a missed opportunity for proper scrutiny on many crucial questions raised by the MEPs. Questions were blatantly dodged on shadow profiles, sharing data between WhatsApp and Facebook, the ability to opt out of political advertising and the true scale of data abuse on the platform.
“Unfortunately, the format of questioning allowed Mr Zuckerberg to cherry-pick his responses and not respond to each individual point.”
The format of questioning by MEP’s was also criticised for appearing to allow the Facebook CEO too much time to respond. When US politicians questioned Zuckerberg, each took turns to cross-examine his answers in a series of exchanges. However, when appearing at the European Parliament last night, leaders of the various political groups each asked several questions at once – Zuckerberg had to wait until all questions were asked before responding
It is this process that appears to have offered him the opportunity to pick and choose which questions to respond to and, in turn, fail to offer any real depth.
A Pre-Cooked Format
A number of prominent political figures in the European Parliament criticised the format, with Guy Verhofstadt tweeting: “Today’s pre-cooked format was inappropriate & ensured Zuckerberg could avoid our questions. I trust that written answers from Facebook will be forthcoming. If these are not accurately answered in detail, the EU competition authorities must be activated & legislation sharpened.”
Collins sympathised with MEP’s and insisted that if Zuckerberg were to appear before the UK’s parliamentary committee he would not be offered the same luxury.
“I echo the clear frustration of colleagues in the room who felt the discussion was shut down. It is time that Mr Zuckerberg agreed to appear in front of the DCMS committee to provide Facebook users the answers they deserve.”
Issues over Facebook’s use of WhatsApp data weren’t answered during the hearing. There have been growing concerns that users of the encrypted messaging service are also at risk of having their data used by Facebook. The company has denied this, however given recent events, user confidence isn’t exactly flourishing.
The question of monopoly was once again raised during the hearing. Facebook’s unparalleled dominance of the social media sphere has raised questions over whether it is too big and should be broken up. In April, Oregon senator Ron Wyden claimed that if Facebook failed to get its house in order it risked this becoming a reality.
Based on previous issues with Microsoft in the early 2000’s the idea of Facebook being broken up by legislators isn’t too fantastical should the situation not improve in the future.