Mark Zuckerberg just testified before the European Parliament -- but politicians are grumbling that a flawed format let him dodge every big question

  • European lawmakers were left frustrated when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified on Tuesday.
  • The format of the hearing meant the 34-year-old executive could dodge questions and frame his response carefully.
  • The entire thing lasted just an hour and a half, much of that taken up by MEPs’ questions, compared to his 10 hours of Congressional testimony in the US.
  • One British politician blasted the event as a “missed opportunity for proper scrutiny.”

Mark Zuckerberg just testified to the European Parliament – and it was a wash-out.

On Tuesday, the FacebookCEO appeared before European lawmakers following months of scandals that have beset the social network – from the spread of fake news to Cambridge Analytica’s misappropriate of up to 87 million users’ data.

But the format of the testimony stymied any attempts to meaningfully interrogate the 34-year-old CEO or make him answer specific questions about his company’s missteps – leaving some of the assembled politicians visibly frustrated.

Instead, Zuckerberg largely repeated the same lines he has been using ad nauseam: Facebook is very sorry, it is taking a broader view of its responsibilities, it’s investing heavily in safety and security, and so on and so forth.

The frustrations stemmed from the fact that though lawmakers were given the opportunity to ask Zuckerberg questions, it wasn’t in a direct question-and-answer format like the CEO had faced in his ten hours of marathon testimony before the United States Congress in April. Instead, after a relatively brief opening statement in which Zuckerberg retread familiar ground, every single MEP (as members of the European Parliament are known) asked their question in a row, after which Zuckerberg gave a summarizing speech that lasted barely 25 minutes.

The format meant Zuckerberg could choose which questions to answer, and how exactly to frame his responses. (The questions were also generally significantly more sophisticated than what he faced in US Congress, where the tech illiteracy of many US lawmakers was on painful display.)

For example, Zuckerberg faced a sustained line of questioning about how Facebook builds “shadow profiles” on non-Facebook users and whether users can opt out – but Zuckerberg barely touched upon this in his responses. And he flatly ignored questions about whether the company would commit to publishing breakdowns of its legal entities and financials in the countries it operates, as well as a question on whether he would let users opt out of targeted advertising altogether.

The discussion was ‘shut down’

After he concluded, frustrated MEPs attempted to interject with more questions, only for the CEO to dodge and promise to have his team follow-up and provide written answers.

“Today’s pre-cooked format was inappropriate & ensured #Zuckerberg could avoid our questions,” tweeted Guy Verhofstadt, one of the MEPs present. “I trust that written answers from Facebook will be forthcoming. If these are not accurately answered in detail, the EU competition authorities must be activated & legislation sharpened.”

Damian Collins MP, chair of the British Parliamentary DCMS committee which has repeatedly asked Zuckerberg to testify in the UK, only to be snubbed, responded angrily, blasting the event as a “missed opportunity.”

“What a missed opportunity for proper scrutiny on many crucial questions raised by the MEPs. Questions were blatantly dodged on shadow profiles, sharing data between WhatsApp and Facebook, the ability to opt out of political advertising and the true scale of data abuse on the platform,” he said.

“Unfortunately the format of questioning allowed Mr Zuckerberg to cherry-pick his responses and not respond to each individual point.

“I echo the clear frustration of colleagues in the room who felt the discussion was shut down. It is time that Mr Zuckerberg agreed to appear in front of the DCMS Committee to provide Facebook users the answers they deserve.”

Here’s the full video of the event:

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