A top Facebook exec today faces a grilling from the British government over the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the impact of “fake news” on the democratic process.  

Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer sat before the UK inquiry in place of the social network’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who testified in front of US Congress for two straight days two weeks ago but snubbed an invitation to talk with the British government.

Watch the video of Schroepfer appearing before a UK government inquiry into fake news below.

As protestors appeared outside the inquiry in Westminster wearing Zuckerberg masks and t-shirts reading “Fix Fakebook”, committee chair Damian Collins and other MPs pressed Schroepfer on the social network’s policies around political advertising. He continued by questioning Schroepfer about interference in western democracy by Russian-backed organisation the Internet Research Agency.

Collins argued that Facebook is “the pipe through which fake news comes, and there doesn’t seem to be much you can do to control it.” But Schroepfer repeatedly claimed the best way to fight fake news is to identify and ban bad guys rather than adjusting the way political adverts are shown in our newsfeeds. He insisted that ads appearing in newsfeeds was the best customer experience because we can just scroll past the ones we don’t like, just like we’d scroll past a friend’s third cat video of the day. 

The Facebook exec described political advertising as a “powerful tool for free speech” that Facebook would be reluctant to curtail. However, he also highlighted Facebook’s decision to ban cryptocurrency advertising over concerns about dodgy ads.

The UK inquiry into fake news began before the current Cambridge Analytica scandal emerged, which saw Facebook users’ data passed to companies seeking to influence democratic processes like the Brexit referendum or US Presidential Election. Facebook’s UK policy director Simon Milner and head of product policy Monika Bicker have previously answered questions, but Collins has repeatedly urged the Facebook CEO himself to step up.

Earlier this week, the inquiry questioned another key player in the recent scandal, Aleksandr Kogan, who moved Facebook users’ data to Cambridge Analytica. Kogan played down the accuracy of his data and accused other players in the scandal of lying. Several questions in that session were stymied by Kogan’s non-disclosure agreement with Facebook, but Schroepfer today suggested he was happy to waive that confidentiality.

Schroepfer admitted that at the time Kogan’s app was mining the data of Facebook users, the social network didn’t check the terms and conditions of such apps. Instead of discovering the issue through its own internal safeguards, Facebook learned about the scandal when it was reported by the Guardian newspaper in 2015.

Cambridge Analytica: Everything you need to know about Facebook’s data mining scandal.

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