Almost all of us use Facebook. We scroll through our newsfeeds, post pictures of our kids, like and comment on our friends’ posts, and join groups with other Facebook users who have similar interests to share ideas.
However, it wasn’t until recently that we began to truly understand the darker side of Facebook. A side where our personal information can be collected and used by third parties without our knowledge or consent and where the spread of misinformation is threating democracies around the world.
As Chair of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, I have been overseeing a study into many of these issues, as well as working collaboratively with my counterpart in the United Kingdom, MP Damian Collins, Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
Both of us have repeatedly sent requests to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to appear before our respective committees. These requests have always been denied, with Facebook sending lower level representatives who have been unable to answer many of our key questions.
In an act of further collaboration, on October 31, Mr. Collins and I sent a joint letter to Mr. Zuckerberg requesting that he appear before an International Grand Committee on Disinformation and ‘Fake News’ in London, UK. We followed up with two additional letters, the final one signed by representatives from eight countries calling on Mr. Zuckerberg to testify.
On November 27, I, along with my committee vice-chairs MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith and MP Charlie Angus, travelled to London to take part in this unprecedented hearing. All together, 24 representatives from nine different countries joined forces in an effort to hear from Mr. Zuckerberg himself about what he knew about the misuse of users’ personal data on his platform and when.
Unfortunately, Mr. Zuckerberg once again declined our invitation. Instead, we heard from yet another representative, this time Facebook’s Policy Solutions VP Richard Allan. Like every other Facebook representative that has come before him, he was unable to answer many of our questions. Not only that, but parts of his testimony were later refuted by Ashkan Soltani, tech expert and former Chief Technologist for the US Federal Trade Commission, during our afternoon hearing later that day.
It is becoming increasingly clear that Mr. Zuckerberg has little interest in taking responsibility for the misuse of his platform and the affect it is having internationally. The empty chair where Mr. Zuckerberg should have been sitting at our hearing in London is further proof.
As I said during the hearing: “In this room we represent over 400 million people, and to not have your CEO sitting in that chair is an offence to all of us, and to our citizens as well.”
When Mr. Zuckerberg refuses to show our countries the respect we deserve and answer our questions, you can’t help but wonder how much he truly wants to “fix” his platform as he has previously claimed.
We need to find solutions – especially with our own federal election less than a year away. As a recent report by Canada’s Communications Security Establishment states: “Cyber threat activity against the democratic process is increasing around the world, and Canada is not immune.”
Bob Zimmer is Member of Parliament for Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies.