Mark Zuckerberg’s in European parliament

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1. The European Parliament’s chosen format was a terrible way to elicit answers from one of the most powerful people in the world.

Mark Zuckerberg’s appearance in front of the European parliament’s conference of presidents was a long-awaited opportunity to press the founder of the world’s biggest social network – which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp – on his company’s global influence and use of personal data following the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Instead, the rambling format saw the leaders of pan-European political groupings take it in turns to pose dozens of separate questions on wildly different topics, some of which were incisive and some of which involved oblique references to the literature of Goethe.

After an hour, with only a few minutes of the hearing scheduled to remain, Zuckerberg was finally asked if he would like to respond to all the questions in one go. Understandably, he gave a speech containing broad answers and promised that his team would be in touch after the event with more precise responses.

2. Zuckerberg would like to make it clear that he is very, very sorry about how his platform has been used.

Following the 2016 US presidential election, the Facebook founder said it was “crazy” to suggest that fake news on his platform had contributed to the election of Donald Trump.

That Zuckerberg is long gone. He insisted that, while his social network was an overall force for good, mistakes had been made. “Whether it’s fake news, foreign interference in elections or developers misusing people’s information, we didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibilities. That was a mistake, and I’m sorry.”

However, he suggested these problems could be fixed through new technology and an investment in extra staff.

3. Facebook’s social media dominance is under threat from MEPs who made it clear they considered it to be an uncompetitive monopoly.

The European Union has form when it comes to breaking up monopolies, and MEPs made it clear that they now believe Facebook falls into that category. “I think it is time to discuss breaking Facebook’s monopoly, because it’s already too much power in one hand,” said Germany’s Manfred Weber MEP. “I ask you simply, and that is my final question: can you convince me not to do so?”

Exactly how you could break up a social networking company is less clear. Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt asked whether Zuckerberg would be willing to sell Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp if it meant his company was able to retain control of the main social network and Instagram.

4. Nigel Farage is concerned about the impact Facebook’s recent algorithm changes could have on his ability to reach the public.

Mark Zuckerberg looked less than delighted when the Ukip leader praised the role that social networks such as Facebook played in the triumph of Donald Trump and the vote for Brexit.

It is easy to poke fun at Farage for asking Zuckerberg why Facebook’s recent algorithm change meant fewer people were reading his posts on the social network. But it is clear that hard-right and nationalistic political groups are increasingly vocal in their concerns that Facebook’s attempts to crack down on fake news and remove hate speech show a liberal bias.

“Would you accept that today Facebook is not a platform for all ideas that is operated impartially?” asked Farage.

5. Zuckerberg lived to fight another day without making any substantial new pledges to change the way Facebook operates.

Watching members of the UK select committee investigating fake news were not impressed that Zuckerberg had chosen to attend this event after having ignored their repeated requests to attend a hearing in Westminster. Zuckerberg and Facebook executives, on the other hand, were almost certainly delighted that the session had passed off without any major disasters.

This article was amended on 23 May 2018 because Guy Verhofstadt is Belgian, not Dutch as an earlier version said.

Image: © REUTERS, Yves Herman

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