Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg will be summoned to appear before a federal committee the next time they set foot in Canada.
That comes after the two heads of the controversial company snubbed a subpoena order to appear before the International Grand Committee on Big Data, Privacy and Democracy, sending domestic representatives in their stead.
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In an unprecedented move on Tuesday, Canadian MPs on the House of Commons access to information, privacy and ethics committee — which is hosting international policy-makers as part of the International Grand Committee — voted to hit the top bosses at the social media giant with an order to appear without a time limit and direct the chair of the committee to reconvene the members even if the chamber is not sitting.
In theory, that means that if Zuckerberg or Sandberg were to come north for a conference, a bailiff would issue a summons as soon as they arrive on Canadian soil and order them to appear before the House of Commons access to information, privacy and ethics committee.
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In practice, though, such a move has never been taken before.
But Canadian MPs said the decision was necessary given what Conservative MP Bob Zimmer, chair of the committee, called an “abhorrent” decision to ignore a legal order to appear.
Lawmakers representing the legislatures from the U.K., Singapore, Ireland, Germany, Chile, Estonia, Mexico, Morocco, Ecuador, Costa Rica and St. Lucia are part of the International Grand Committee and throughout the meeting with Facebook, Twitter and Google on Tuesday, they repeatedly blasted Facebook for not providing clear answers to questions about the lack of action in taking down extremist, manipulative and false content.
“I am sick to death of sitting through hours of platitudes,” said Jo Stevens, a U.K. MP and member of that country’s digital, culture, media and sport committee.
Her frustration was echoed by numerous other members on the committee with her U.K. parliamentary colleague, Ian Lucas, getting into a heated exchange with Neil Potts, Facebook’s public policy director, over the latter dodging questions.
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“I want a straight answer,” Lucas demanded.
Angus also accused the company of a “lack of respect for international law,” saying the company has shown again and again that it is failing to take seriously enough the threat that misleading and extremist content poses to global communities.
“We actually do go over and above the law,” responded Kevin Chan, the head of Facebook Canada.
“How can you say that to us with a straight face?” NDP MP Charlie Angus said.
“Because it’s the truth,” Chan said.
Chan repeatedly told the committee “I am limited” in what he was able to tell the committee in answers to questions across a range of subjects from hate speech to privacy regulation and political advertising.
“No you’re not,”shot back Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, a Liberal member of the access to information, privacy and ethics committee hosting the meeting.
Erskine-Smith pointed to a pledge Zuckerberg made in March that he was looking forward to speaking with legislators around the world about how best to regulate social media companies, including his own.
The fact that just two months later, he chose to snub the committee shows he did not mean that, Erskine-Smith said.
“If he was an honest individual, he would be sitting in that chair today.”
More to come.