MPs seize Facebook documents for fake news investigation

Written by Liz Bates on 26 November 2018 in News

A serjeant-at-arms was dispatched to a London hotel room to take papers believed to include emails from Mark Zuckerberg​

Credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA 

A serjeant-at-arms was sent to a London hotel to seize internal Facebook papers as part of parliament’s ongoing fake news inquiry, it has been revealed.

According to the Observer, the documents are thought to contain revelations about Facebook’s role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal – including emails from its chief, Mark Zuckerberg.

Damian Collins, chair of parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, took the unusual action after Mr Zuckerberg repeatedly refused to appear before MPs.

Using a rare mechanism, Collins demanded that software firm Six4Three hand over the papers, eventually sending a serjeant-at-arms – whose role is normally to keep order in parliament – to the London hotel room of the company's CEO as the deadline drew near.

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It is understood that the tech boss was then escorted to the parliamentary estate after failing to comply and threatened with fines and even imprisonment.

Collins said: "We are in uncharted territory. This is an unprecedented move but it’s an unprecedented situation. We’ve failed to get answers from Facebook and we believe the documents contain information of very high public interest."

The move is part of a high-profile Commons inquiry into fake news that has spent the past two years probing the growing influence of social media on elections.

Collins said: "We have very serious questions for Facebook. It misled us about Russian involvement on the platform. And it has not answered our questions about who knew what, when with regards to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. We have followed this court case in America and we believed these documents contained answers to some of the questions we have been seeking about the use of data, especially by external developers."

The documents were obtained by Six4Three during a legal discovery, in which they accused Facebook of exploiting privacy loopholes.

A Facebook spokesperson said Six4Three’s claims had "no merit, and we will continue to defend ourselves vigorously".

They added: "The materials obtained by the DCMS committee are subject to a protective order of the San Mateo Superior Court restricting their disclosure. We have asked the DCMS committee to refrain from reviewing them and to return them to counsel or to Facebook. We have no further comment."

About the author

Liz Bates is senior political reporter for PublicTechnology sister publication PoliticsHome, where this story first appeared.

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