Politicians from around the world threatened representatives of Facebook Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Twitter Inc. with stricter laws on privacy, fake news and hate speech in a wide-ranging hearing in Canada’s capital.
Legislators from countries including Canada, the U.K., Mexico, Singapore and a host of others participated. The group, the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, met last year in the U.K. Their goal is to establish standards preventing social media companies from making unauthorized use of personal information and disseminating false information.
In the year or more since news broke that political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica had collected information from millions of Facebook accounts, various countries have proposed or passed new rules to govern content and privacy on social media platforms.
Google, Twitter and Facebook say they support some new rules, but are lobbying against laws that would fundamentally change the open nature of their systems, or require them to police political speech.
Much of the conversation, however, centered on the politicians’ indignation that Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg didn’t show up to answer questions himself.
The committee even voted to serve a summons to Zuckerberg if he goes to Canada in the future, after which he could be held in contempt if fails again to appear.
“Facebook, among others of the large platforms, has shown extreme disrespect and disregard for sovereign governments,” said Peter Kent, a conservative member of Parliament.
Politicians also complained about Twitter and Google executives opted out, though their ire was mostly directed at Facebook.
Last year, Zuckerberg repeatedly refused requests by senior British lawmakers to give evidence during an inquiry, into the role social-media companies played in the spread of fake news, after the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
He may also face a formal summons there if he ever visits the U.K. Zuckerberg has testified before the U.S. Congress, however.
Since revelations about Cambridge Analytica, a British political consultancy tied to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign that obtained data on millions of Facebook users without their knowledge, politicians around the world have held hearings to grill the social media companies about the responsibility they hold for safeguarding personal information.
Top executives rarely show up, sending instead lower-level policy experts and lawyers. They’ve become well-versed in calmly explaining policy, while avoiding committing to any grand changes.
Google and Facebook have hired thousands of people to moderate the content on their platforms. Privacy laws similar to ones passed in Europe are likely to go live in the U.S. and elsewhere in the coming months.
But the internet giants have generally managed to push off threats such as the outright banning of data collection or proposals of breaking up the companies themselves.
Many of the lawmakers said they were dissatisfied with the companies’ responses so far, and that new rules would be forthcoming.
Google’s Derek Slater, director of information policy, government affairs and public policy, said new laws shouldn’t be “overly restrictive,” such as instituting standard timelines for how fast a company should take down offending content before fines kick in.
When asked if competition authorities should take consumer privacy into account when reviewing mergers, Facebook policy director Kevin Chan said he believed competition and privacy were “two distinct and separate things.”
Still, the answers again weren’t enough for most of the politicians.
“I am sick to death of sitting through hours of platitudes from Facebook and avoidance tactics about answering questions,” said Jo Stevens, a British member of Parliament from the Labour Party. “I want the boss here to take responsibility.”