When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared before members of the European Parliament yesterday, it was widely expected that the social media entrepreneur would face grilling and scrutiny similar to what he experienced in his US Congress hearings last month, if not more intense. However, a weird format meant that Mark was able to side-step many of the most pointed questions, instead delivering a “standard” answer. European lawmakers were understandably angry at the perceived evasiveness, but Mark cited the lack of available time and promised that Facebook would respond to each question in writing “in the next few days”.
Mark’s responses to the questions touched upon a variety of themes that he has been repeating in all his public responses since the Cambridge Analytica episode came to light, including acceptance that Facebook has made mistakes along the way to becoming the world’s biggest social media platform. Effectively mirroring a statement he made before the US Congress, Mark said at yesterday’s hearing, “Whether it’s fake news, foreign interference in elections, or developers misusing people’s information, we didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibilities. That was a mistake, and I’m sorry.”
Despite Mark’s apologetic responses, European lawmakers were less than pleased. While many focused their questions on Cambridge Analytica, and Facebook’s response in its aftermath, particularly in light of the upcoming GDPR implementation, several MEPs also made it clear that they saw Facebook as an uncompetitive monopoly. German MEP Manfred Weber pointedly asked, “I think it is time to discuss breaking Facebook’s monopoly because it’s already too much power in one hand...I ask you simply, and that is my final question: can you convince me not to do so?”
The MEPs’ take on the Facebook monopoly comes even as a coalition of advocacy groups have come together to launch the ‘Freedom from Facebook’ campaign to ask the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to break up the social media giant’s “monopoly” by spinning of WhatsApp, Instagram, and Messenger into separate units.
Mark’s appearance in the European Parliament is the first of a three-day “apology tour” of Europe, followed by meeting French President Emmanuel Macron later today at his Tech for Good summit and then later a “fireside chat” at the VivaTech conference in Paris tomorrow. Whether Mark will make more detailed statements at these two meetings remains to be seen. European lawmakers will no doubt be following the proceedings from the two meetings closely after missing their chance to get a straight answer from the Facebook CEO yesterday.