Facebook CTO fails to impress in four hours of grilling in front of UK parliamentary committee

Facebook’s chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer spent four hours on Friday defending the platform in a televised meeting with a UK parliamentary committee that accused Facebook of being a morality-free zone, a firm that could do anything to earn money, that regularly misled the public, and that was a vampire squid shoving itself into the entire culture.

Members of the Digital, Culture Media and Sport Committee today posed various tough questions to Mr. Schroepfer who appeared in place of CEO Mark Zuckerberg, thereby further riling some MPs. Some of the questions put to him were around Facebook’s long silence after it discovered Cambridge Analytica’s illegal data collection practices, Facebook’s role in the distribution of fake news and its role during the elections.

On the question of Facebook keeping the Cambridge Analytica scandal hidden from the public for two years, Mr. Schroepfer admitted that it was a mistake, that he didn’t know who took the decision to hide the scandal from the public, and that Facebook had taken steps in 2014 to ensure the sanctity of user data as the same was considered a priority.

He added that he was more upset about the scandal than politicians were, a statement that the MPs considered hilarious. “It’s a high bar,” said MP David Collins. When asked if Mark Zuckerberg would appear before the committee, Mr. Schroepfer said he didn’t know if his CEO would.

Mr. Schroepfer was also asked why Facebook threatened a journalist with a lawsuit prior to the revelation of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and if it was true that Facebook regularly tries to bully or silence journalists. “I am sorry that journalists feel we are trying prevent them getting the truth out. That was not the intention,” he said, adding that it is a standard practice to ensure only correct facts are released to the public.

Zuckerberg could be asked to appear

Even though the hearing lasted around four hours, the committee was not satisfied with many responses offered by Mr. Schroepfer. In a statement after the hearing, MP Collins said: Mr. Schroepfer, Mark Zuckerberg’s right-hand man whom we were assured could represent his views, today failed to answer many specific and detailed questions about Facebook’s business practices.”

He added that he would again request Zuckerberg to appear before the committee and respond to many questions the committee has that Mr. Schoepfer failed to answer. In his first letter to Zuckerberg in March, Colling had accused Facebook of consistently understating the risk from companies acquiring data of Facebook users.

“It is now time to hear from a senior Facebook executive with the sufficient authority to give an accurate account of this catastrophic failure of process … Given your commitment at the start of the new year to ‘fixing’ Facebook, I hope that this representative will be you,” he said in the letter to Mark Zuckerberg.

“Someone has to take responsibility for this. It’s time for Mark Zuckerberg to stop hiding behind his Facebook page,” he added.

He also questioned the presence of Facebook’s investigators at Cambridge Analytica’s office soon after news broke about the firm’s data harvesting operation affecting millions of Facebook users.

“We were told this last night and I don’t think the information commissioner was aware of that at that time. This is a matter for the authorities. Facebook sent in data analysts and lawyers who they appointed; what they intended to do there, who knows?

“The concern would have been, were they removing information or evidence which could have been vital to the investigation? It’s right they stood down but it’s astonishing they were there in the first place,” he told the BBC.