Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg declines latest invite to appear before international lawmakers

By Graham Kates

/ CBS News

Congressman joins global Facebook probe

For the third time, Mark Zuckerberg is refusing to answer questions from an extraordinary gathering of lawmakers from around the world who are investigating Facebook's role in election meddling and the spread of disinformation.

The Facebook CEO rejected the latest invitation from the International Grand Committee on Disinformation and "Fake News" to appear before legislators from a dozen countries aggressively investigating the use of social media, in particular Facebook, in efforts to influence elections and public opinion.

The group from a dozen countries has met twice in the last year, in London and Ottawa, Canada, to question social media executives and compare notes from their investigations. Both previous hearings included heated exchanges with lower-level Facebook executives sent in Zuckerberg's stead.

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Dualta Ó Broin, Facebook's head of public policy for Ireland, notified lawmakers from that country that Zuckerberg would not be in attendance at the next hearing on November 7 in Dublin. Ó Broin cited Zuckerberg's previous testimonies to Congress, as well as the European Union Parliament, in explaining the decision.

Hildegarde Naughton, chair of Ireland's Oireachtas Communications Committee, who will oversee the November hearing, said in a statement to CBS News she is "obviously disappointed that Mr. Zuckerberg has declined a third request to appear before the International Grand Committee."

"However this will not prevent the Committee continuing its work and holding social media companies to account for their lack of transparency and inability to self-regulate," Naughton said.

The November hearing will be the first to include a U.S. lawmaker, Congressman David Cicilline, a Democrat from Rhode Island who serves as chairman of the House Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law.

At its two previous hearings the committee has included lawmakers from Britain, Canada, Singapore, Saint Lucia, Ireland, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Germany, Mexico, Morocco and Estonia. At each hearing, seats have been left empty for Zuckerberg.

At the committee's most recent hearing in Ottawa, Canada, in late May, Facebook executives Neil Potts and Kevin Chan were questioned about the company's decision not to block a video that was altered to make U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi appear drunk. Potts and Chan then watched as the Canadian contingent voted to subpoena their bosses.

"Should Mr. Zuckerberg or (Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl) Sandberg come to Canada for any reason, for a tech conference or to go fishing, they should be served a summons," said Canadian Member of Parliament Charlie Angus.

Canada is the second country to which Zuckerberg cannot travel without expecting to be immediately summoned to appear before government officials. After the International Grand Committee met for the first time in London last year — a meeting Zuckerberg declined to attend — the head of a British committee investigating disinformation told CBS News that if Zuckerberg ever steps foot in England he can expect a visit from authorities.

"If Mark Zuckerberg came to the U.K., we would serve a summons on him and if he refused to accept that summons then we could start contempt proceedings against him," Damian Collins, the chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee in the U.K. Parliament, said in a February interview.

Naughton has not indicated if Zuckerberg could face similar consequences for deciding not to attend the Dublin hearing.

At the London hearing, Facebook executive Richard Allen was grilled on issues ranging from the company's failure to block posts in Sri Lanka encouraging people to "kill all Muslims" to secret internal company documents seized by the committee's British Members of Parliament.

Singapore's Edwin Tong asked why a post in Sri Lanka saying "kill all Muslims" was allowed to stay up, calling it an "egregious mistake." Tong said when a Sri Lankan government official pushed Facebook about the post, the company replied initially, "This post does not break any specific rules."

First published on September 9, 2019 / 1:44 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Graham Kates

Graham Kates is an investigative reporter covering criminal justice, privacy issues and information security for CBSNews.com.

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