Canadian lawmakers smoke after Facebook’s Zuckerberg snubs invitation

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canadian lawmakers fumed on Tuesday when Facebook Inc founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg snubbed an invitation to Ottawa to testify on privacy and democracy for an international panel, hit the billionaire with a standing subpoena.

An empty chair and nameplate shown after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg failed to appear at the International Grand Committee on Big Data, Privacy, and Democracy meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, May 28, 2019. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

It was the second time in six months, Zuckerberg and Facebook’s Chief Operating Office Sheryl Sandberg have failed to show up when invited to a committee of international legislators to examine misinformation, the privacy and the protection of democracy.

Zuckerberg and Sandberg are served with a formal summons, should they “decide to come to Canada to go fishing,” said Canada’s Charlie Angus, a member of parliament for the left-leaning New Democratic y. “It is not good enough for them to blow us off.”

If Zuckerberg and Sandberg do not meet the parliament could hold them in contempt, but it would be mainly a symbolic move.

“It is an expression of the parliament that it is unacceptable behavior,” Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, a Canadian Liberal legislator, told Reuters after the hearing.

Zuckerberg, wrote an article published two months ago, in which he said that he was “looking forward” to the discussion of “with lawmakers over the world,” the same issues are addressed by the committee.

“If (Zuckerberg) was an honest person, in writing those words, he would sit in that chair today,” Erskine-Smith said.

Kevin Chan and Neil Potts, both at the global policy management at Facebook, present at the meeting of the committee and responded to questions.

Responding to the criticism of Zuckerberg and Sandberg’s absence, Potts said: “Mark and Sheryl, our CEO and COO, are committed to working with the government in a responsible way. They have the feeling that we have the mandate to be here today before you to discuss these topics.”

The legislatures of a dozen countries, including Canada, are on the so-called “International Grand Committee on Big Data, Privacy, and Democracy”. The members of the committee pelted the two Facebook representatives and representatives of Google and Twitter with questions about how to deal with fake news and privacy.

Canada will hold a general election in October and there is concern about a possible malfunction, and the Canadian security services are sounding the alarm about what they see as a potential weakness of the political parties’ cyber-networks.

Against this background, Canada’s relationship with Facebook has been rocky in recent months.

In April, Canada’s Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien said Facebook broke Canadian privacy laws when they collected the information of about 600,000 citizens, and he said that he would seek a court order to force the social media giant to change its practices.

In the last month, the canadian government said that the world of the large social media companies, including Facebook, were not doing enough to help fight any foreign interference in the national elections, adding that they may need to be regulated.

Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Tom Brown

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