‘Facebook is a morality free zone’: MPs blast social network boss
‘Facebook is a morality free zone’: MPs blast social network boss for using the courts to try and stop the privacy scandal being exposed
- Facebook chief technical officer Mike Schroepfer appeared before MPs today
- He was grilled on how political adverts on Facebook work during elections
- And he was lashed for how the network responded to a major privacy scandal
A Facebook executive was accused of working in a ‘morality free zone’ by MPs investigating fake news today.
Mike Schroepfer was attacked by a Commons committee over the social network’s bid to use the courts to try and stop a major privacy scandal over stolen Facebook data being exposed.
Facebook’s chief technical officer was told his company was ‘the problem’ at the heart of the Cambridge Analytica expose.
Mr Schroepfer appeared in Parliament today after Mark Zuckerberg refused to fly in from California to give evidence in person.
Facebook executive Mike Schroepfer (pictured in Parliament today) was accused of working in a ‘morality free zone’ by MPs investigating fake news today
Tory MP Julian Knight (pictured at today’s hearing) told Facebook’s chief technical officer his company was ‘the problem’ at the heart of the Cambridge Analytica expose
He vowed that by next year’s local elections, British voters would have access to more information about how and why they see political advertising on Facebook.
In heated exchanges more than an hour into the hearing, Tory MP Julian Knight condemned Facebook’s attempt to escape blame for Cambridge Analytica wrongly using users’ data.
Mr Knight blasted: ‘I put it to you that Facebook is a morality-free zone.
‘You aren’t an innocent party maligned by the likes of Cambridge Analytica: you are the problem.’
Mr Schroepfer replied: ‘I respectfully disagree with that assessment.
‘You want us to say we’re responsible, which we have on multiple occasions, and you want transparency on ads and other things.
‘The core of our job is to build a service which helps millions of people connect with each other around the world every day.’
Mr Schroepfer apologised for Facebook’s decision to send legal letters to journalists covering the story in a bid to stop the expose coming out.
Turning to the 2016 EU Referendum, Mr Schroepfer said Facebook had found no evidence Cambridge Analytica had spent money on advertising during the referendum.
But Aggregate IQ, a linked company which multiple Brexit campaign groups spent large portions of their campaign budget with, ‘spent two million dollars on the Brexit referendum in the UK in 2016,’ he said.
Committee chairman Damian Collins wanted Mark Zuckerberg to appear in front of his committee but had to settle for Mr Schroepfer
Mr Schroepfer stressed that political advertising on Facebook is ‘a very small, low, single-digit percentage of our advertising revenue’ and the company believes transparency is the best way to protect voters from malicious political ads.
‘There are a number of challenges you’ve raised and we need to do better,’ he said, but added that, for people outside the political mainstream, the combination of Facebook pages and advertising on the platform is ‘a powerful tool of free speech’.
The solution, he claimed, is greater transparency around who is paying for political adverts on Facebook and making the content of those adverts visible to everyone.
In written evidence provided before the hearing, Mr Schroepfer detailed plans to create a ‘searchable archive’ of political adverts in time for the UK local elections in May 2019.
In other exchanges, Mr Schroepfer said he is ‘disappointed’ by the social media giant’s handling of Russian disinformation campaigns on the platform.
Facing a grilling about political advertising by committee chair Damian Collins, Mr Schroepfer said: ‘We were slow to understand the impact at the time and I am way more disappointed in this than you are.’
Amid laughter, Mr Collins told Mr Schroepfer ‘It’s a high bar’.
Ahead of today’s hearing protesters picked Parliament’s Portcullis House to underline public anger at fake news and data leaks on Facebook
The protesters brought an effigy of Mark Zuckerberg to Parliament after the social network boss refused to attend in person
‘I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that,’ the Facebook executive replied. ‘It’s something we’re working very hard on.’
Mr Schroepfer stressed how Facebook is pursuing technological solutions to malicious behaviour on its platform, where the company is ‘trying to catch these things proactively’.
He said: ‘We want to get to a mode where people reporting bad content of any kind is the defence of last resort and the vast majority of stuff is caught up front by automated systems.’
For much of its history, Facebook representatives had stressed a programme of users reporting misbehaviour on the platform – such as illegal activity, hate speech, abuse, nudity and disinformation – rather than actively policing the network themselves.
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