Mark Zuckerberg’s appearance before the European Parliament ended in chaos yesterday as MEPs criticised the format of the hearing.
During the course of the 90 minute session, MEPs spent an hour asking Zuckerberg dozens of questions – but the Facebook CEO was invited to respond to the parliamentarians’ long list of concerns just seven minutes before the hearing was scheduled to end.
As the session drew to a close, Tajani was forced to contend with MEPs angry that Zuckerberg had not been pressed to answer many of the questions put to him. In the midst of the row, Zuckerberg said his team would follow up on any unanswered questions.
The 34-year-old billionaire, who has ignored a summons to appear before the UK parliament, attempted to allay parliamentarians’ anxieties about Facebook’s GDPR preparations, alleged political bias and the Cambridge Analytica data grab.
Zuckerberg also sought to reassure MEPs that such an incident could not happen under the social network’s current rules, and that the new “clear history” privacy tools would give users new controls over their data. He added that the social network would be GDPR-compliant by the time the new data protection regime comes into force on Friday (25 May).
Nigel Farage, the former leader of UKIP, told Zuckerberg the UK would not have voted for Brexit and the US would not have elected Donald Trump had it not been for Facebook. But he claimed that since the start of this year, engagements for those with right-of-centre political opinions were down “about 25 per cent”.
Commenting on allegations of political bias, Zuckerberg said Facebook was dedicated to being a platform for all ideas: “I can commit to you here today that we have never and will not make decisions about what content is allowed or how we do ranking on the basis of a political orientation.”
Damian Collins, the chair of the British inquiry that has repeatedly called on Zuckerberg to appear before parliament, described the session as “an hour of questions, followed by a lengthy statement from Zuckerberg, with all difficult questions dodged”. “The format, which was agreed by Facebook, led to no real scrutiny.”
A Facebook spokesperson told the BBC that the social network had not chosen the format of the session, a statement the parliament’s president Antonio Tanjani reportedly reiterated during a press conference after the briefing. Tanjani said MEPs had known Zuckerberg’s time was limited.
Lukasz Olejnik, a security researcher, tweeted: “Not sure if the intent of the European Parliament was offering space and time to improve the image of Facebook following the Congressional hearing, but it worked.”