Facing Backlash Again: Facebook Up Against Political Pressure Over Data, Disinformation

Nov 28, 2018

With Anthony Brooks

Facebook in the hot seat — again. Lawmakers from around the world grill a top executive over its role in election meddling and spreading disinformation.


Alex Hern, tech reporter for the Guardian UK. (@alexhern)

Dipayan Ghosh, former privacy and public policy adviser at Facebook. Technology policy advisor at the White House during the Obama Administration. Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center. (@ghoshd7)

Sheera Frenkel, cybersecurity reporter for the New York Times. (@sheeraf)

From The Reading List

The Guardian: “Fake news inquiry: Facebook questioned by MPs from around the world” — “Rolling updates as representatives from nine parliaments question the social media company, who refused to send CEO Mark Zuckerberg.”

New York Times: “Zuckerberg Defends Company in Friday Meeting With Employees” — “Mark Zuckerberg fiercely defended Facebook in a question-and-answer session with employees on Friday afternoon, pushing back against criticism of the company in the wake of a New York Times investigation into how it reacted to Russian influence operations.

“In an hourlong videoconference broadcast to Facebook offices around the world, Mr. Zuckerberg responded to questions from employees on a range of topics, from Facebook’s behavior over the past 18 months to how it should handle leaks to the media, according to three people familiar with the discussion but not willing to discuss it publicly because it was a private meeting.

“The idea that Facebook tried to ‘cover up anything’ was dead wrong, an impassioned Mr. Zuckerberg said, using an expletive in his response, according to these people. Some employees responded with muted applause and cheers.”

CNN: “The crazy tale of how the UK parliament ended up with secret Facebook documents” — “An American app developer who gave confidential documents about Facebook to UK lawmakers during a visit to London says he did so because he panicked and feared he wouldn’t be let out of the country unless he complied.

“Court papers filed Monday in California detail a twisting, tangled tale of intrigue that Six4Three owner Ted Kramer claims led him to hand over the documents to a parliamentary committee investigating Facebook, even though a California court ordered that the documents must remain under seal.

“The documents are significant in part because some of them may contain correspondence between Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and company executives. Kramer has them because his company sued Facebook and accused the social media giant of having a disregard for user privacy. Six4Three also claimed that Zuckerberg devised a plan that forced some of Facebook’s rivals, or potential rivals, out of business.

“Facebook had fought for months to keep the documents from being made public. It’s now possible that their contents could be revealed during the committee’s hearing this week.”

CNBC: “Facebook exec admits Zuckerberg not appearing before UK parliament doesn’t look great” — “The absence of Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg at a hearing attended by lawmakers from nine countries doesn’t look great, an executive at the company admitted Tuesday.

“‘Not great,’ was the phrase Richard Allan, Facebook’s vice president of policy solutions, used to describe how Zuckerberg’s no-show at the hearing looked when asked by a lawmaker. Allan is also a member of the parliament’s upper chamber, the House of Lords.

“‘I think it’s important we have this kind of engagement but I also have a role supporting my company as it tries to grapple with the issues that we’re talking about today,’ he said.

“Allan added: ‘And I understand as we’re trying to work out where senior officers of the company should be that we should work this out.’ ”

Politico: “Why Mark Zuckerberg’s ’empty chair’ policy is backfiring” — “Mark Zuckerberg wants you to know he’s listening.

“The Facebook chief executive traveled to all 50 U.S. states to better understand people’s everyday lives. He testified to Congress (twice) on how his social networking giant helped to spread falsehoods during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. And he pledged to ‘fix Facebook’ as one of his yearly resolutions — complete with impassioned social media updates about how the company is getting its house in order.

“But Zuckerberg’s mea culpa is aimed at the wrong audience.

“So far, his pleas have focused almost entirely on the domestic U.S. scene. When it comes to non-Americans — who make up roughly 80 percent of the company’s 2.2-billion-user base worldwide — the 34-year-old tech mogul has been mostly MIA.

“That lack of engagement is now coming back to haunt him.”

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