Politics

MPs invite Zuckerberg, Twitter CEO to Ottawa to talk fake news

A group of Canadian MPs is calling on the corporate titans of social media — including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg — to appear before an international hearing Ottawa is hosting this spring to talk about the spread of disinformation online.

International grand committee meeting set for May 28

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at Facebook Inc's annual F8 developers conference in San Jose, California, U.S. May 1, 2018. (Stephen Lam/Reuters)

A group of Canadian MPs is calling on the corporate titans of social media — including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg — to appear before an international hearing Ottawa is hosting this spring to talk about the spread of disinformation online.

The House of Commons standing committee on access to information, privacy and ethics will play host to the second meeting of the International Grand Committee on Disinformation and Fake News in May, according to a release from the committee today.

The global group is made up of parliamentarians from Canada, the U.K., Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, France, Ireland, Latvia and Singapore.

Along with Zuckerberg, the committee says it also sent invitations to:

  • Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg,
  • Google CEO Sundar Pichai,
  • Former Google executive chair Eric Schmidt,
  • Apple CEO Tim Cook,
  • Apple COO Jeff Williams,
  • Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos
  • Amazon Web Services (AWS) CEO Andrew Jassy,
  • Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey,
  • WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton and
  • Snap Inc. CEO Evan Spiegel.

Conservative MP Bob Zimmer, chair of the Canadian committee, said it will be a chance for the executives to explain what they're doing to protect individuals' privacy and stop the spread of disinformation.

"It is vitally important that we hear from these top executives so that we can get the answers we've been seeking," he said. "We will not be accepting testimony from regional representatives at this meeting, as previous experience has shown that their answers have proven to be, frankly, inadequate."

The global group held its inaugural meeting late last year in London, U.K., where members were hoping to grill Zuckerberg about the website's involvement with Cambridge Analytica.

Lawmakers from nine countries grilled Facebook executive Richard Allan as part of an international hearing at Britain's Parliament on disinformation. (Gabriel Sainhas/House of Commons via the Associated Press)

The consulting firm, which worked on Donald Trump's presidential campaign, obtained the personal data of 87 million Facebook users from a researcher, drawing attention to the use of data analytics in politics.

Instead of Zuckerberg, Facebook sent Richard Allan, the company's vice president of policy solutions, to address the committee.

Minister suggests studying regulation of Facebook, Twitter

NDP MP Charlie Angus made international headlines after that first meeting for lambasting Zuckerberg for not personally answering questions on the matter.

"We've never seen anything quite like Facebook," Angus said at the time. "While we were playing on our phones and apps, our democratic institutions … seem to have been upended by frat-boy billionaires from California.

"Mr. Zuckerberg's decision not to appear here at Westminster to me speaks volumes."

This week, Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould floated the idea of imposing new rules on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter in the lead-up to the next federal election.

Testifying before the Procedure and House Affairs committee yesterday, Gould suggested the committee study the role of social media in elections.

"I would encourage this committee to do a study of the role of social media in democracy, if that is something that you think is interesting," she said. "To hold the social media companies to account.

"I would welcome suggestions and feedback in terms of how to appropriately regulate or legislate that behaviour, because I think one of the biggest challenges — and you can see this around the world — is the path forward is not as clear."

The international committee is meeting in Ottawa May 28.

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