MPs slam Facebook as report calls for ‘radical shift in balance of power’

Select committee concludes 18-month inquiry with damning words for Mark Zuckerberg

A committee of MPs has accused Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg of shirking leadership over fake news and disinformation on the social networking site.

The tech tycoon has failed to show the “personal responsibility that should be expected from someone who sits at the top of one of the world’s biggest companies,” the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee said.

It made the comments as it called for a “radical shift in the balance of power between the platforms and the people” in a new report.

It has probed the data firms that played a pivotal role in the EU referendum and looked at how their wares have been used to target voters away from the scrutiny of the public eye. In its conclusions, it called for a compulsory code of ethics for tech firms overseen by an independent regulator with the powers to take legal action when rules are breached.

It also said electoral laws were “not fit for purpose” and demanded major reform by government – including over foreign meddling in elections from states like Russia.

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But it trained its most damning fire on Facebook, which it said “intentionally and knowingly violated both data privacy and anti-competition laws” by handing masses of user information over to app developers.

It also said the tech giant had failed to clarify the extent of Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election and EU referendum, or how it would prevent such meddling in the future.

Committee chair Damian Collins said: “Even if Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t believe he is accountable to the UK parliament, he is to the billions of Facebook users across the world. Evidence uncovered by my committee shows he still has questions to answer. Yet he’s continued to duck them, refusing to respond to our invitations directly or sending representatives who don’t have the right information.

“Mark Zuckerberg continually fails to show the levels of leadership and personal responsibility that should be expected from someone who sits at the top of one of the world’s biggest companies.”

Collins added that democracy was “at risk from the malicious and relentless targeting of citizens with disinformation and personalised ‘dark adverts’ from unidentifiable sources”.

He said: “We need a radical shift in the balance of power between the platforms and the people.”

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson said: “Few individuals have shown contempt for our parliamentary democracy in the way Mark Zuckerberg has. If one thing is uniting politicians of all colours during this difficult time for our country, it is our determination to bring him and his company into line.”

Elsewhere in the report, the committee took aim at controversial Leave.EU founder Arron Banks, who it said had not cleared up concerns about alleged data misuse or the source of some campaign funds.

Responding to the report, a Facebook spokesperson said: “We share the committee’s concerns about false news and election integrity and are pleased to have made a significant contribution to their investigation over the past 18 months, answering more than 700 questions and with four of our most senior executives giving evidence.”

The spokesperson added: “We are open to meaningful regulation and support the committee’s recommendation for electoral law reform. But we’re not waiting. We have already made substantial changes so that every political ad on Facebook has to be authorised, state who is paying for it and then is stored in a searchable archive for seven years. No other channel for political advertising is as transparent and offers the tools that we do.”

Sam Trendall

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