Facebook decides, the European Parliament struggles

EPA-EFE/SHAWN THEW

CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on 'Facebook: Transparency and Use of Consumer Data' on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, USA, 11 April 2018.

Facebook decides, the European Parliament struggles


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What a great spectacle the last week was. Apart from some Members of the European Parliament, Members of the Commission and a few staffers who have had the privilege of going to the West Coast of the US on official missions, tech behemoths like Facebook represent the American dream that Europe is oh-so-jealous of. And while we have Spotify, it is the potential visit of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg that has had people excited.

Though the official line has been that Zuck needs to come to explain himself and his company’s demeanour and the abuse of data by – among others – Cambridge Analytica, the fandom and hype for the social media mogul has trumped the seriousness that the discussion warrants.

Lots of column-inches (or rather newsletter space, and tweets), were written last week to explain what the power dynamics were that led to the arrangement of a meeting of Facebook’s superstar with only a few select figures.

The role of European Parliament President Antonio Tajani, who allegedly came up with the suggestion for Zuckerberg to go through a “grilling” by only a select group of MEPs (unsurprisingly the leadership), is nothing more than theatrics. Because, to be honest, it would be ludicrous for the President of the European Parliament, THE institution of the European Union that stands as its crown jewel for democracy, to insist that CEO land on a soft cushioned seat of a small, heavily guarded room, instead of facing the reality, and full force of democracy.

The problem for Zuckerberg would have been that our Parliamentarians are much stronger and knowledgeable in technology, both in its workings and policy, than the US Senate. Luckily for him, this doesn’t (for the most part) include anyone in the Conference of Presidents.

Tajani had the audacity to whine/protest (we are unsure what it was) on Twitter to Justice Commissioner Vera Jourová that controlling and criticizing the European Parliament is not her job. What the public commands is the truth.

And the truth is that Zuckerberg’s team refused anything more public. In fact, Zuckerberg’s appearance is the biggest gift they could have hoped for.

What democracy commands, is a seat for Zuck in the plenary (not a meet-and-greet in a room with a few people); live streamed. This time, of course, with a carefully hidden booster pillow. Because we Europeans have more tact than the wolves in Washington DC.

Things did escalate when on Friday it was announced that the meeting with Zuckerberg would indeed be streamed. This came after the backlash from many of the political group leaders continued. As we went to print, things were still developing.

It will be interesting to see what the conditions placed by Facebook after the announcement of the web streaming of the event will lead to. As of Friday close of business, Facebook had not yet agreed for the meeting to be streamed.

Either they will cave in the face of a public relations nightmare (or uneasy dream), or, the best case alternative scenario would be to send an executive of some sort to face the music… and no Zuck at all.

But then, what would happen to the photo op? And what happens in 2019 when some of these leaders who will line up for the photo op, dream of some help from the most powerful and influential platform in the world; for their dreamed-of Spitzen candidacy, or their mere running for European Parliament election?

Sorry folks, Facebook doesn’t do that anymore. Enjoy your photos.

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