Damian Collins, Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee, has given Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg two choices; testify voluntarily or we’ll issue a formal summons next time you enter British jurisdiction.
The letter follows evidence given by Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer to the select committee last week, which has been deemed unsatisfactory by the lawmakers. Attached to the letter was also a list of 39 questions Schroepfer was unable to answer, as the select committee attempts to get to the bottom of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
“Following reports he [Zuckerberg] will be giving evidence to the European Parliament in May, we would like Mr Zuckerberg to come to London during his European trip,” the letter reads. “We would like the session here to take place by 24 May.
“It is worth noting that, while Mr Zuckerberg does not normally come under the jurisdiction of the UK Parliament, he will do so next time he enters the country. We hope that he will respond positively to our request, but if not the Committee will resolve to issue a formal summons for him to appear when he is next in the UK.”
Zuckerberg now has until May 11 to respond, and to show that he is not directly snubbing the UK government. Collins and his cronies might have had their egos dented when Zuckerberg sent one of his deputies to answer their questions, but the flexing of legislative muscles is almost surely going to gain the attention of the Facebook CEO. Zuckerberg might be almost allergic to face-to-face discussions, however ignoring this letter could escalate into somewhat of a PR disaster for the social media giant.
In terms of the unanswered questions, you do have to feel sorry for Schroepfer. The MPs have condemned the executive for not having the answers, but as Schroepfer mentioned several times during the briefing, he came prepared to answer questions specifically on the Cambridge Analytica scandal. This was what was requested of him. He was also very honest with the Committee; when he was not certain he said he would get back to them.
On several occasions, Collins asked Schroepfer to guess at an answer when he did not know, to which Schroepfer refused. What Collins was going to achieve through asking for a guess is beyond us. It seemed the MP was attempting to lure the executive into making inaccurate statements. Schroepfer did well to resist and acted completely appropriately, even if the MPs didn’t, almost mocking him on occasion. It was more of an immature chest-beating exercise to belittle a US executive than a useful inquiry.
There were several questions which Schroepfer should have been able to answer, those which were focused on the scandal, but some were not. And it wasn’t like Collins was asking for information which is easily available. For example, Schroepfer is unlikely to know what percentage of websites on the internet users are tracked by Facebook. Collins is talking about every website on the internet; it isn’t absurd for Schroepfer not to know the answer this question. You can have a look at the full letter and questions below.
Zuckerberg should respond positively to this letter otherwise there is a risk of the situation escalating. It might prove to be a humbling and embarrassing experience for the CEO, as we imagine the MPs will have their sights set on patronising and demeaning him as much as possible as punishment for the earlier snub, but damage limitation is never a simple task.