Lawmakers from nine countries tore into Facebook on
Tuesday during an international committee hearing in
Facebook sent its British VP Richard Allan to field
questions, but the politicians were more interested in savaging
Mark Zuckerberg for failing to show up.
The lawmakers from Britain, Canada, Argentina went for
the jugular, with one saying that “frat boy billionaires from
California” are destroying democracy.
Lawmakers from nine countries tore into Facebook on Tuesday after
CEO Mark Zuckerberg failed to attend an international committee
hearing in Westminster, London.
Instead, Facebook sent policy chief Richard Allan, who bore the
brunt of the committee’s fury during the gruelling 165-minute
hearing, and admitted that Zuckerberg’s no-show was not a good
Not only did lawmakers scold Zuckerberg for his absence, but
evidence was brought forward from a cache of Facebook documents
the committee seized last week.
Here is a summary of the most explosive moments from the hearing:
Frat-boy billionaires destroying democracy
Canadian MP Charlie Angus kicked things off by asking whose
decision it was for Zuckerberg to “blow off” coming to the
When Allan took responsibility for the decision, Angus upped his
rhetoric, painting Facebook as a reckless threat to democracy.
“While we were playing on our phones and apps our democratic
institutions, our formal civil conversations seem to have been
upended by frat boy billionaires from California,” he said.
Canada’s Bob Zimmer, who set up the International Grand Committee
with UK politician Damian Collins, laid into Zuckerberg for not
showing up. “To not have your CEO sit in that chair is an offence
to all of us,” he said.
At a press conference after the hearing, Collins said “the buck
stops with Zuck.” Zimmer added: “It’s a high school company
collecting adult paychecks… To me they don’t get it, I
still don’t think they get it.”
Zuckerberg “sent his cat”
The lawmakers repeatedly savaged Zuckerberg for not appearing,
and likewise, Allan was repeatedly told that he was not senior or
knowledgeable enough to answer questions. He admitted that was
“not great” that he, a member of the UK parliament himself, was
there and not his CEO.
Belgium’s Nele Lijnen found the most inventive way to address
“Do you know the expression, ‘sending your cat?'” she asked,
momentarily confusing Allan. She explained that in Flemish, it’s
idiom meaning to not show up. This drew laughter, and Allan tried
to play along.
“I hope I am able to assist as a cat,” said Allan. “No, no, you
are sitting next to the cat,” she explained.
Blowback from a bikini app
As the hearing went on, details emerged from a cache of Facebook
documents that chair Damian Collins had seized last week. The
cache contains potentially explosive internal emails, which
obtained by exercising obscure parliamentary privilege on a
software company founder who was on a business trip to the
Ted Kramer is the founder of Six4Three, which is suing Facebook
business — an app that scraped for Facebook images of women in
Collins said it was “ironic” that the press had described the
app, Pikinis, as creepy, given Facebook’s own origins. This was
an apparent allusion to Facemash, a website Zuckerberg made in
college which ranked women by their attractiveness. Zuckerberg
told Congress in April that Facemash was not Facebook’s
Collins brought the first piece of evidence from the document
cache to the table. “An engineer at Facebook notified the
company in October 2014 that entities with Russian IP addresses
had been using a Pinterest API key to pull over 3 billion data
points a day through the Ordered Friends API,” he said.
“Was that reported, or was that just kept — as so often seems to
be the case — was that just kept in the family and not talked
about?” Collins asked.
Allan replied that the information Collins had viewed was “at
best partial, at worst misleading.” Facebook later clarified that
it investigated the engineer’s warning and “found no evidence of
specific Russian activity.”
Ads for data
The second piece of evidence that emerged from the documents
concerned Facebook favouring apps who bought substantial amounts
of advertising on the platform.
British MP Clive Efford asked whether apps were given a
favourable whitelisting agreement in exchange for being able “to
buy large quantities of mobile advertising through Facebook.”
When Allan denied this, Efford replied: “We’ve seen evidence that
suggests that’s the case.”
Collins has yet to publish any of the documents obtained from
Six4Three, but has promised he
will do so within the week. Throughout the hearing, Allan
consistently tried to undermine the papers, saying it was from a
Argentina says hurry up and sort out WhatsApp
Leopoldo Moreau, from Argentina’s Freedom of Expression
Commission, was eager to know what Facebook was planning to do
He noted that during the recent Brazilian presidential election,
WhatsApp was used to disseminate mass amounts of fake news with a
political agenda. Argentina has a presidential election coming in
Allan said Facebook is building WhatsApp into new “election
taskforces,” which will monitor whether elections are being
interfered with on Facebook’s platforms. Moreau replied: “You can
hurry up because elections are coming really soon.”
Moreau also pointed out that Argentina had already asked to meet
with Facebook following a report from Amnesty International. The
report found large account farms making fake identities, but
Facebook’s Argentinian office refused to give an answer and said
it would send a Latin American representative — who never showed
“I can only apologise,” Allan responded.