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This article was published on May 22, 2018

EU is livestreaming Zuck’s hearing — reluctantly

Facebook's CEO will answer the EU's questions regarding the Cambridge Analytica scandal on May 22.

EU is livestreaming Zuck’s hearing — reluctantly
Jennifer Baker
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Jennifer Baker

Better known as Brusselsgeek, Jennifer is a reporter on EU tech policy and digital rights. Regularly bursting the EU bubble, she was awarded Better known as Brusselsgeek, Jennifer is a reporter on EU tech policy and digital rights. Regularly bursting the EU bubble, she was awarded #1 Tech Influencer 2019 by ZN, was named by Onalytica as one of the world's Top 100 Influencers on Data Security 2016, and was listed by Politico as one of the Top 20 Women Shaping Brussels in 2017. She likes good books and bad films, especially those featuring aliens, swords and time travel – preferably all three.

As the European Parliament’s ‘Mr Privacy,’ Jan Philipp Albrecht, said: “It is a bad sign that Mark Zuckerberg only wants to answer the questions of selected Members of the European Parliament behind closed doors.” That’s an understatement!

It’s also a pretty dreadful sign that the heads of the European Parliament’s biggest political groups were so happy to go along with this idea. It begs the question: what are the trying to hide? Zuckerberg’s culpability or their own inability?

Albrecht himself aside, there are few in the room that will be able to properly interrogate the Zuck on the complexities of the Facebook business model and how that systematically undermines democracy. Fortunately, following widespread public outcry, political pressure from the Socialists & Democrats, and the Greens in the Parliament, including a petition of more than 30,000 signatures started by Green MEP Sven Giegold, the discussion will be livestreamed here.

So who will be there?

The so-called Conference of Presidents is made up of the leaders of the political groups of the European Parliament led by Parliament President Antonio Tajani. Albrecht, and the chair of the Parliament’s civil liberties committee, (UK Labour MEP) Claude Moraes, are not part of this “select” group, but have been specially invited because of their expertise — which is sorely needed.

Tajani showed a massive social media-PR fail in announcing the meeting would take place in secret. Relatively mild criticism of this decision from Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova provoked an high-handed arrogant response for her to mind her own business!

With such little understanding of the dynamics of social media, one wonders what exactly Tajani will have to say to Zuckerberg.

Tajani was also instrumental in allowing Zuckerberg off the hook when other MEPs wanted him to attend a public hearing over the data scandal surrounding Facebook and Cambridge Analytica

It took ALDE leader Guy Verhofstadt threatening to boycott the closed-door meeting and Giegold’s petition to get Tajani to change his mind, so his crowing that he had achieved something in getting the meeting livestreamed rings hollow.

Admittedly this is the first time a Conference of Presidents meeting will be transmitted live.

On Monday Tajani said: “I consider it very positive that the founder of Facebook has accepted our invitation to come in person to meet the representatives of 500 million Europeans. It is a sign of respect for the legislator of the world’s largest market. I also appreciated that he has accepted my request that the meeting be directly open to all citizens.”

Well Mr Tajani, I consider it very worrying that you were prepared to allow the founder of Facebook off the hook and treat the representatives of 500 million Europeans as second class citizens — American citizens were afforded a public hearing with Zuckerberg in the US Congress.

It’s a sign of the weakness of the Conference of Presidents that you and Zuckerberg had to be publicly shamed into this.

This is not to avoid laying blame at Zuckerberg’s door — Facebook is quite obviously culpable, and no doubt I’ll lay into him after the hearing. But I expect better from my elected representatives and I expect them to hold the likes of Facebook to account.

In the room with the Zuck: