Cleverly triumphs as 2018’s Best Politician on Social Media

Combining humour, personality, and robust combativeness has proved a winning formula for the Deputy Chairman.

Knowing what people value from a politician on social media is always tricky. Is it taking the fight to the other side? Championing your own cause and values? Deploying humour? Humanising oneself, and by extension one’s colleagues, by giving a glimpse into your life and personality?

Our winner in this category displays each of those qualities in his online activities, hence his stonking victory – congratulations to James Cleverly. Commiserations to Liz Truss and Gavin Williamson, whose strong Insta games didn’t get them over the line.

As for our fourth wildcard contestant, it’s interesting to note that the Absolute Boy still picked up 13.5 per cent of the votes among Conservative members. His digital clout is undeniable.

In 2019, the ‘techlash’ will go from strength to strength

From tech nationalism to the dark side of data, the New Year will see the recent pushback against the global industry take on even greater importance.

Digital Politics is a column about the global intersection of technology and the world of politics.

LONDON — When it came to tech, 2018 was a cracker.

Facebook fumbled its way from scandal to scandal. Google was slapped with another record antitrust fine over its Android mobile software. And officials in Brussels, Washington and elsewhere struggled to get their heads around how tech went from a legislative sideshow to the center of policymaking worldwide.

For those hoping the new year will bring respite from this ‘techlash,’ I have bad news: We’ve only just begun.

No matter where you look — from early-stage European Union investigations into Amazon and Facebook to potential federal privacy legislation in the United States — the era of laissez-faire policymaking on tech has come to an end.

Gone are the days when tech was supposed to save the world.

In its place, politicians are taking their battle with Silicon Valley’s biggest names to the next level, while doing all that they can to support domestic digital programs and local startups as the digital economy becomes central to the wider economy.

As 2019 approaches, the list of upcoming regulatory stand-offs feels never-ending.

Facebook (which outmuscled Google this year to become the tech giant everyone loves to hate) faces a slew of regulatory investigations into its Cambridge Analytica scandal, privacy sanctions under Europe’s new data protection rules and its role in the spread of misinformation in elections around the globe.

Margrethe Vestager, Europe’s competition czar, is in a race against time before her tenure ends at the European Commission to complete a series of investigations into many of the world’s largest tech firms. The U.S. Congress — never known for its willingness to regulate tech — is slowing waking up to the fact that it may need to act.

European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager | Mario Cruz/EPA

And from France to the Philippines, lawmakers are fast-tracking new rules aimed at curbing the power of Big Tech. From laws to tackle “fake news” to demands that firms pay more tax into national coffers, policymakers are eagerly trying to rejigger the playing field, all while most of these countries’ voters continue to embrace the latest tech wizardry faster than you can say “Hey, Alexa.”

With so much on deck, it’s easy to miss the big picture. Here are four predictions for 2019 to help guide you through what awaits us next year.

Tech nationalism

Gone are the days when tech was supposed to save the world.

Now, national lawmakers want to know how some of the world’s biggest tech companies are going to help them at home — either through paying more out in taxes (France’s new digital levy on Facebook and Google comes into force on January 1) or by investing in local operations, which can offer both high-tech jobs and digital know-how for countries’ national tech industries.

It doesn’t stop there. Expect to see politicians putting increasingly tough restrictions on who can acquire domestic tech players as the battle for talent, intellectual property and investment ratchets up amid the growing importance of digital industries to countries’ future economic prosperity. That already has started to happen with Germany, the United Kingdom and the U.S. balking at Chinese players scooping up national champions.

Serious cracks are starting to show in people’s faith in Silicon Valley — and those will expand even further.

It’s the start, not the end, of such strategies.

Even as Western allies look to outdo each other on tech, the era of digital cooperation will likely be tested to its limits as governments move to impose national laws on the internet age.

Data as a toxic asset

It’s become a cliché to claim data is the ‘“oil of the 21st century.” But now that Europe’s revamped data protection rules are in full swing (and tens of thousands of complaints have been filed across Europe), this seemingly never-ending pot of digital information is starting to look a lot less appealing — even if it still underpins the online digital advertising industry, or the main cash cow that keeps the digital economy running.

Already, competition authorities are investigating whether the collection of large amounts of information by a few tech firms (Facebook, Google and, increasingly, Amazon dominate the online ad world) could represent unfair competition. The first blockbuster fines under Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, will likely be doled out in the second half of 2019.

And with new data breaches and online hacks revealed daily, the vast treasure troves of data that companies now hold on us may soon leave them open to almost limitless regulatory risk.

Public awakening to tech’s ugly side

Last year, I predicted policymakers and consumers would diverge on how they viewed Big Tech, with officials taking a significantly more skeptical line than the tech-mad voters. That held true for most of 2018. But as we head into the New Year, serious cracks are starting to show in people’s faith in Silicon Valley — and those will expand even further amid increasing regulatory pressure on how these firms operate globally.

Will the influx of “fake news” throw an upcoming election in favor of one side or another?

In the U.S., for instance, a recent Pew Research Center study found that while roughly three-quarters of people still believed tech companies and their products had more of a positive impact than a negative one on their own lives, almost one-third of the same individuals now thought these firms had a harmful effect on the wider society.

Sure, that’s not a tidal wave of users running to the door — at least, not yet. But with investors pushing Facebook’s stock price down more than 20 percent this year and people from Lyon to Los Angeles openly questioning the role these players have in their daily lives, the optimistic drumbeat that surrounded the tech industry for years is coming to an end.

Misinformation, on steroids

With both India and the EU heading to the polls in two of the world’s largest-ever elections next May, 2019 marks the biggest test to date for how social media companies and governments worldwide confront digital misinformation. It’s not going to be pretty.

Many policymakers still base their tactics on what happened in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. But online tricksters (both those looking to make a quick buck and those backed by foreign governments) haven’t stood still, updating their tactics to keep one step ahead of regulatory and corporate responses. That includes shifting to internet messaging services like WhatsApp (which are almost impossible to police because of built-in encryption standards) and moving to smaller, less protected social media sites like Instagram whose policies aren’t yet robust enough to cope. One word to get to know for 2019: deepfakes, or almost real-life copies of public figures saying the most outrageous things powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Will the influx of “fake news” throw an upcoming election in favor of one side or another? That, unfortunately, is almost impossible to predict. But with the reputations of both politicians and tech players on the line, the failure to clamp down on misinformation, particularly around elections, will only further polarize electorates.

Mark Scott is chief technology correspondent at POLITICO.

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2018: The year in figures and charts

Telling the story of the last 12 months through data.

What a tremendous, nebulous year.

Very much like last year, 2018 was full of endless Brexit drama. And endless Trump drama. And then there was some more Brexit drama. And some more Trump drama. But hey, other stuff happened too (right?).

The French proved that they are still the global champions of street protests, the far right grabbed headlines across the Continent and Angela Merkel prepared to abdicate.

From politics to climate change, gay rights and technology giants, here are the figures behind the topics that defined 2018.

Eddy Wax contributed reporting.

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UK government spent most on Facebook political advertising

UK government spent almost £97,000 on ads seeking support for its Brexit deal.

LONDON — The U.K. government was the highest spending political advertiser last week shelling out almost £97,000 on Facebook advertisements seeking support for its deal taking Britain out of the European Union.

The figures published by Facebook on Monday in a new weekly political advertising report also reveal that the ruling Conservative Party spent £40,000 between December 2 and December 8, and U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May spent £1,659 in the same period.

The People’s Vote — an anti-Brexit campaign group pushing for a fresh referendum on the U.K.’s membership of the European Union — spent more than £47,000.

Pro-Brexit campaign group Britain’s Future, which is opposed to May’s deal, spent almost £21,800.

Facebook, which launched its U.K. Ad Library in October in a bid amid concerns about so-called “dark ads” on its network, will now release a weekly report with more detail about the number of political advertisements, and how much each advertiser has spent.

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Iain Dale: On Newsnight, I erect my Tower of Power

And: For May, there should be no way back from losing. My Tory leadership straw poll. Cox, a man of substance and integrity. Plus, Tower of Power extra: Dick for Iain.

Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publishing, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.

We live in momentous times. When I write this column next Friday, Theresa May could not longer be prime minister.

Wednesday next week will be a more interesting day than Tuesday. No-one now expects the Government to win the Brexit deal vote, and the only debate about what will happen is about is the size of the defeat. If the size of the majority against the Government motion is more than 100, it is very difficult to see how the Prime Minister, in all conscience, could stay on. There’s no way back from that, I’d have thought.

But we don’t live in normal times, and we know all about the Prime Minister’s stickability. The Opposition, whatever the size of their win, will no doubt call a vote of confidence. They’d be mad not to. The Government will win it, surely, but it could be a pyrrhic victory.

It must be likely that by midday on Wednesday, Graham Brady will have received the 48 letters needed to force a vote of confidence in May’s leadership. Again, she may well win that vote, mainly because of the absence of a clear alternative leader, but the size of the victory would be crucial. Could she really carry on if more than 100 Tory MPs voted against her? And they surely would.

– – – – – – – – – –

Twitter polls aren’t exactly scientific, and are just a bit of fun, but they do attract large numbers of people to vote.

I put up a poll on Wednesday offering people the choice of Boris Johnson, David Davis, Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt as next leader of the Conservative Party. In Twitter polls, you can only offer four choices.

Within 15 hours, nearly 10,000 people had voted. The result? Johnson got 41 per cent, Davis 25 per cent, Javid 21 per cent and Hunt 13 per cent. Make of that what you will.

The important electorate would of course initially be Tory MPs. My guess is that Johnson would not be in the top two. His performance in the Brexit debate this week will hardly have improved his chances.

– – – – – – – – – –

Another senior Conservative whose fortunes have fluctuated this week is the Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox. His bombastic performance at the Dispatch Box on Tuesday led many to speculate that he could be a dark horse candidate for the leadership. And you could see why.

But less than 24 hours later his body language on the front bench was somewhat different, as Andrea Leadsom announced that the government would heed the vote of MPs and publish the Attorney’s legal advice on the Northern Ireland backstop. He looked a broken man and I wondered whether he might be thinking about resigning.

I’m sure he considered it, but he remains in post. And a jolly good thing too. I am sure he has a massive contribution to make to Conservative politics, and despite what happened this week he is still seen as a man of substance and integrity.

– – – – – – – – –

“Hello, it’s Newsnight here – are you free to come on tonight and take part in a panel with a difference?” said the producer. “What’s the difference,” I asked nervously. “Well, we’ve got a Tower of Power and we want you to explain who the most important players are in what’s going on at the moment by pinning them from top to bottom on our model of Big Ben.” “Oh well,” I thought, “at least it’s not a whiteboard”.

So Paul Mason, Bronwen Maddox from the Institute of Government and I did our best to explain to the audience why we thought MPs were now more important in the process than the Cabinet. They had, to coin a phrase, taken back control. Yes, it was a gimmick, but it proved a very good way of explaining with a visual aid, something which is actually quite complicated. I suspect we might be seeing more of the Tower of Power…

– – – – – – – – –

Each day I spend several hours at LBC preparing for my radio show with my two producers. On Tuesday, I got a bit of a surprise when I was flicking through the list of clips and interviews on our computer system: I saw a clip called ‘DICK FOR IAIN’.

“Well this is going to be a different sort of show,” I thought to myself. I was somewhat disappointed to find that it was a clip of the Cressida Dick talking to Nick Ferrari. Oh well.

7 tweets to regret

Mistakes last forever on social media.

Twitter is a horrible place, full of Russian bots, abusive trolls and the president of the United States.

But buried among the pile-ons and the bile are some interesting nuggets and, occasionally, a “did they just tweet that?” moment.

Here are some important people who sent tweets that they must surely have regretted. There’s no Donald J. Trump on this list because he has neither regret nor shame.

1. Russian love-in

Former Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb is a serial social media (ab)user so he should have known better than this gushing tweet about his “old friend and colleague Sergey Lavrov.” The problem with being too chummy with Russians is you never know when they are going to do something unexpected, such as opening fire on Ukrainian vessels off the coast of Crimea, claiming the vessels had illegally entered Russian waters, seizing the three ships and detaining a couple dozen sailors. That’s what happened four days after Stubb’s tweet about his “professional and experienced” old pal.

In a follow-up tweet, Stubb wrote: “Some of you have reached out to me about my last week’s photo with Russian FM Lavrov. I value and respect your comments. Thank you. Those who know me, know where I stand.” We don’t know Stubb, so we don’t know where he stands.

Oh, and just where is Lavrov’s right hand?

2. Friend of Saudi Arabia

Speaking of being pictured next to someone you shouldn’t be … here’s Lloyd Blankfein, the boss of Goldman Sachs, having a right old laugh with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in March. That’s the same crown prince — MBS to his friends, which Blankfein appears to be — who has been implicated in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, killed during an interrogation gone wrong in the Saudi Consulate in Turkey. Even Donald Trump has put (a tiny bit of) distance between himself and the Saudis.

3. Chaos in the shed

Here’s a classic of the genre. Just before the U.K. general election of May 2015 (which feels like thousands of years ago), David Cameron told Britain to make a choice: “stability and strong Government with me, or chaos with Ed Miliband.” How’d that work out for you, Dave? Here’s a quick recap: Cameron won the election, called a referendum on EU membership, lost, quit and is now holed up in an expensive shed in his back garden. Miliband, meanwhile, last week tweeted a pic of himself opening a new building for AFC Bentley, a semi-professional football club in the West Midlands. The rest of us have been enjoying/hating the season finale of “The U.K.”

4. BFFs

Staying with U.K. Conservatives ruining everything, remember when the Tory dream (nightmare?) team was Boris Johnson and Michael Gove? They were thick as thieves in the run-up to, and immediate aftermath of, the EU referendum. Johnson even had a nickname for Gove — “the Gover.” The two men campaigned for Brexit across the length of the land and then formed a formidable double act in the race to replace David “stability and strong Government” Cameron. Then Gove stabbed Johnson in the front and, with next to no warning, went from being manager of the Johnson campaign to the man who destroyed it. They are now friends again thanks to that political staple — self-interest.

5. Beware upstarts

Before he was a massively unpopular French president, Emmanuel Macron was a massively popular French president. Before that, he was an interloper who was frightening the life out of the establishment. Here’s Bruno Le Maire giving the upstart both barrels in February 2017, a few weeks before the first round of the presidential election in which Le Maire’s party colleague François Fillon had a nightmare. He called him a “man without conviction!” In September that same year, Le Maire joined … Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche and is now the economy minister.

6. Balls!

Thursday April 28, 2011 was the day when Ed Balls became Twitter’s favorite politician. That was when Balls, then the U.K.’s shadow chancellor of the exchequer, was told by an aide to check for articles about him on Twitter. Balls was in a supermarket at the time and, suitably distracted, typed his own name into the “compose tweet” field instead of the search box. A Twitter legend was born and every April 28, thousands of people celebrate one man’s slip of the typing finger.

7. Weiner!

Former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner quit Twitter after the New York Post reported on the sexting scandal between him and a woman he described as “literally a fantasy chick.” That was in 2016 but he was in Twitter trouble long before then, accidentally tweeting a very personal — and NSFW — image of himself to a Twitter friend. At first he said he’d been hacked, writing, “Tivo shot. FB hacked. Is my blender gonna attack me next? #TheToasterIsVeryLoyal.” But he soon admitted there had been no hack and that he had been sexting with a number of women. Resignation soon followed.

Matthew Karnitschnig, Laura Kayali and Jack Blanchard contributed to this article.

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Here we go again – the Government is spending taxpayers’ money promoting its EU deal online

Cameron and Osborne spent £9 million promoting Remain in 2016. Now May appears to be pursuing the same tactic.

Readers will recall the £9 million of taxpayers’ money which the Cameron government spent promoting the Remain position in the run-up to the EU referendum, over and above the amount spent by the actual Remain campaign itself. It left a somewhat sour taste in the mouth, and is yet to be forgiven by many Leavers.

Well, they seem to be at it again. Yesterday I noticed that the Cabinet Office is funding Google adverts to appear beneath searches on terms like “brexit deal”:

The promoted link is to a website which offers various videos and, er, inspirational quotes to show how keen big businesses are on the Prime Minister’s offering; “…elements of this deal do go towards a lot of the aspects that we sought”, enthuses the head of BAE Systems. Stirring stuff.

Interestingly, the cookies the site offers hint at a wider advertising push – they include functions to facilitate and track the success of advertising on Facebook and Twitter. The @10DowningStreet account is certainly paying to promote its video ‘explaining’ the deal:


The potential for this to annoy various voters ought to be quite clear – particularly those concerned about the deal, or simply opposed to their taxes being wasted.

Exactly how much taxpayers’ money is being spent on the advertising campaign ahead of Parliament’s vote? Given the issue is to be decided by MPs, isn’t this effectively taxpayer-funded lobbying of the type supposedly driven out of Whitehall under the Coalition? How extensive is the advertising, and are there other costly promotional activities also underway that aren’t publicly visible?

There is also a political risk. If, God forbid, the Prime Minister’s mistaken plan for Brexit ends up producing a general election or a second referendum, with either featuring her deal as one of the options, this advertising could swiftly come to be seen like that deployed by Cameron and Osborne in 2016 – an underhand attempt to use the public purse to influence results at the ballot box. The damage from the last time that approach was pursued still lingers, as the occupants of Downing Street must surely know.

Global lawmakers turn up heat on Facebook

The international hearing underscores how broadly anger with Facebook has spread around the world.

LONDON — They came. They saw. They raged at an empty chair.

In an international hearing held at the British parliament Tuesday, lawmakers from eight countries spent two hours grilling a senior Facebook executive over the social networking giant’s role in misinformation, election meddling and the company’s oversized role in Western democracy.

With an empty chair standing in for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who declined an invitation to attend the event, lawmakers channeled their outrage at Richard Allan, Facebook’s vice president of policy solutions and a member of the British House of Lords. Questions ranged from whether the tech giant should be broken up to the need for curtailing its data collection practices.

Allan appeared to come closest to cracking when asked by one of the lawmakers what it looked like when the company’s 34-year-old boss failed to show up for a hearing with politicians from countries whose combined Facebook user numbers totalled more than 400 million people, or more than the population of the United States.

Allan’s short response, which received laughter from the packed U.K. parliamentary hearing room, was: “Not great.”

“You are still downplaying down FB’s role. You still don’t grasp the influence you have on election campaigns” — Bob Zimmer, Canadian politician

Bob Zimmer, a Canadian politician, summed up the anger from the international group of lawmakers, many of whom have held separate hearings into Facebook in their national parliaments.

“What do you say to our 400 million constituents that you are taking this seriously?” Zimmer asked Allan, who repeatedly said “I’m sorry” in different ways. “You are still downplaying down FB’s role. You still don’t grasp the influence you have on election campaigns.”

Other policymakers from Ireland, Britain, Singapore, Argentina, Brazil, Latvia, France and Belgium peppered Allan with questions aimed at squeezing out new information about how the company collects, stores and uses people’s digital information. In an effort to shame Zuckerberg for not showing up, the officials emblazoned the name of Facebook’s chief executive on the empty chair at the hearing.

They chastized Facebook for not doing enough to tackle the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal, to stop misinformation from spreading during electoral campaigns, and to be sufficiently transparent at corporate practices that many said had been left wanting.

“Political accounts have had an influence on elections,” Julie Elliot, a British MP, told the hearing. “They have destabilized democracies.”

Repeatedly, Allan pushed back on such claims, though he admitted Facebook had not done enough in the past to clamp down on the excesses that have been made public. He also said it was likely that people were still using the social network to push polarizing political messages and hate speech.

“We will continue to discover groups of people who are doing things that they shouldn’t be doing at election time,” he told the lawmakers.

Much will now depend on how the officials follow up on the international hearing — the group of global officials has no legal authority.

Many of the countries, notably France and Singapore, are already working on domestic “fake news” legislation, though Hildegarde Naughton, an Irish politician attending the hearing, said that it required international coordination if the power of global companies like Facebook could be brought to heel.

“It’s an enormous task in front of us,” she said. “We can’t work in silos, this is the world wide web.”

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Dan Boucher: How to control Facebook’s use of our data

Social media providers should be required to present UK consumers with an ongoing, highly visible, simple, unavoidable choice over its use.

Dr Dan Boucher was the Conservative candidate in Swansea East at the 2017 General Election.

It has not been a great year for Facebook: the Cambridge Analytica scandal, accusations about conveying disinformation and fake news, and the refusal of Mark Zuckerberg to appear before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee have done nothing for its reputation.

Such is the level of frustration that representatives from nine different parliaments have come together to form an ‘international grand committee’ to call on Zuckerberg to give evidence. He has again refused to attend, sending instead a representative, Richard Allan, Vice President of Policy Solutions, Facebook. Allan will be cross examined by the committee in Westminster today.

One of the central challenges relating to the growing power and influence of social media providers is how they use our data.

The interim ‘Disinformation and Fake News report’ of the DCMS Select Committee looked at, among other things, the ‘definition, role and legal liabilities of social media platforms.’ The report expresses real concerns about privacy, and says that social media companies ‘give users the illusion of having freedom over how they control their data, but they make it extremely difficult, in practice, for users to protect their data. Complicated and lengthy terms and conditions, small buttons to protect our data and large buttons to share our data mean that, although in principle we have the ability to practise our rights over our data …in practice it is made hard for us.’

At the root of this lack of effective control over our data is the fact that the business model in question is predicated on assumptions associated with the re-emergence of what in practice is barter economics.

I well remember that on the occasion of my very first A-Level economics lesson, my teacher briefly observed that early models of economic transactions were based on barter before we moved to a money-based economy. In two years of economics teaching, he never returned to the subject and I can’t recall it coming up at university even once.

This lack of regard for the barter economy now seems strangely misplaced. At first glance, the fact we can all access social media services free of charge seems like a great boon for the consumer. It isn’t very often we can get something for free! Of course, there has to be a catch and the catch is that in return for the free service, social media providers get to harvest our data, which then enables them to target advertising at us from which they make a lot of money. The service user thus effectively trades his or her data with the company in return for use of the social media platform in question.

How should Conservatives respond to this re-emergence of barter economics?

In wrestling with this question, one inevitably turns to the historic approach of Conservative social reformers to barter. Although the sense I got from my very first economics lesson was that barter was replaced by money many hundreds of years ago, the truth is that it was actually a feature of economic life even during the nineteenth century through the ‘truck system.’

That great Conservative social reformer, the seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, was particularly critical, observing that barter tended to result in transactions that favoured the powerful (the employer) over the weak (the employee), the employer providing things in return for labour that under compensated the employee. He spoke out passionately against this system and, when he acceded to his title in 1851, immediately prohibited its use on his estates.

As we reflect on the need to develop an effective regulatory system for dealing with the challenges presented by social media today, it is well worth reflecting on this past Conservative approach to barter. If we do so in the context of upholding another key Conservative value – choice – one way forward that immediately commends itself is legislation requiring social media providers to present UK consumers with an ongoing, highly visible, simple, unavoidable choice either: i) to access the service in question in return for allowing the social media company to use their data for specified money-making purposes, or ii) to access that service for a monetary fee on the basis that the company would then not use the person’s data as a means of making money.

To this some might respond by saying that legislating for the internet is not possible, but that tired old assumption has been shown to be completely without foundation, not least by the Digital Economy Act 2017. Of course, we want to keep legislation to a minimum, but limited legislation to underwrite choice in the context of the threat of more drastic legislation banning barter outright, which could then be held over the heads of social media companies if they don’t start treating people and their data with greater respect, would provide an interesting place to start.

Social media is an important part of our lives. It needs a strong foundation going forwards and this depends, crucially, on affording better protections for the consumer. This constitutes a key policy challenge and one in relation to which we as Conservatives must lead the way. We must examine the challenge from every angle, including from the perspective of the Conservative critique of barter economics and what it shows about the impact of that system on the rights of users of social media platforms.

Why Mark Zuckerberg’s ’empty chair’ policy is backfiring

Facebook’s chief executive has focused his time on answering US critics. But the bigger threat lies overseas, and he’s failing to react.

LONDON — Mark Zuckerberg wants you to know he’s listening.

The Facebook chief executive traveled to all 50 U.S. states to better understand people’s everyday lives. He testified to Congress (twice) on how his social networking giant helped to spread falsehoods during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. And he pledged to “fix Facebook” as one of his yearly resolutions — complete with impassioned social media updates about how the company is getting its house in order.

But Zuckerberg’s mea culpa is aimed at the wrong audience.

So far, his pleas have focused almost entirely on the domestic U.S. scene. When it comes to non-Americans — who make up roughly 80 percent of the company’s 2.2-billion-user base worldwide — the 34-year-old tech mogul has been mostly MIA.

That lack of engagement is now coming back to haunt him.

Facebook says its execs have answered questions from more than 13 parliaments from the U.S. to Germany to Indonesia.

Politicians from nine countries — whose citizens on Facebook, collectively, total roughly 500 million, or around 200 million more than the population of the U.S. —  are gathering in London Tuesday for a daylong gripe-fest aimed almost entirely at Zuckerberg and his failure to answer global fears that his social network now has too much clout beyond the U.S. border.

After U.K. officials seized internal Facebook documents over the weekend central to an ongoing U.S. lawsuit, fireworks could fly if British politicians decide to make public those emails from Zuckerberg and other senior executives that allegedly show Facebook was complicit in the data practices that led to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The company vigorously denies the accusations.

Central to lawmakers’ concerns is how misinformation, hate speech and other digital nastiness is created, shared and spread virally during national elections among Facebook’s users, who now number one out of every three people in the world (outside China).

Google, Microsoft and Intel all faced EU antitrust fines over their alleged illegal behavior | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

They will also publish a non-binding set of principles about how the internet should be governed worldwide — a toothless act, but one aimed at showing how politicians worldwide have had enough.

But don’t be fooled. The real target is Zuckerberg and his refusal to take the rest of the world seriously as a source of existential problems for Facebook.

The international dressing down of Facebook underscores what many in the company’s senior management have yet to grasp — that the firm can no longer be viewed as merely a U.S. company, and that by failing to treat global complaints on an equal footing to those from American lawmakers, it’s heading ever deeper into a world of pain.

“If he doesn’t want to appear to make suggestions on how to regulate, we can do that ourselves,” said Bob Zimmer, a Canadian politician taking part in the London hearing on Tuesday, along with officials from Britain, France, Belgium, Argentina, Brazil, Ireland, Singapore and Latvia, in reference to Zuckerberg.

“He needs to show up, he needs to understand the gravity of this,” Zimmer added. “Only one person can answer our questions, and that’s Mr. Zuckerberg.”


Zuckerberg has not been totally absent from the international debate.

In May, he made a pilgrimage to Europe, stopping off to meet Emmanuel Macron, the French president, and Matt Hancock, Britain’s then-digital minister, before suffering through a televised dressing down by members of the European Parliament.

Yet even that showing — Facebook had hoped that by talking to MEPs, its boss could skip parliamentary hearings elsewhere — didn’t go to plan.

The European politicians were underprepared and spent much of the two hours trying to score political points. By focusing on the European Parliament, Zuckerberg also opened himself up to criticism that he didn’t take other lawmakers’ complaints seriously.

“There’s an enormous amount of propaganda being circulated by supporters without the support of official political parties” — Margot James, U.K. digital minister

In the past few months, the social networking giant has shown greater readiness to address outrage. It hired Nick Clegg, a former deputy British prime minister, to be its new chief global policy wonk; it removed tens of thousands of fake accounts worldwide; and it even joined forces with the French government in a six-month project to revamp the country’s hate speech rules.

In total, Facebook says its execs have answered questions from more than 13 parliaments from the U.S. to Germany to Indonesia.

But for most of those hearings, Zuckerberg was absent. Clegg, who won’t attend the London hearing as he’s still on a global tour to get to know Facebook’s business, said the company realized that more regulation was surely to follow.

“The best way to ensure that any regulation is smart and works for people is by governments, regulators and businesses working together,” Clegg said in a statement.


What Facebook has yet to figure out is that its legal woes globally are different from the regulatory headaches that faced previous generations of U.S. tech firms.

Google, Microsoft and Intel all faced EU antitrust fines over their alleged illegal behavior. But the social network’s missteps are of a different nature — they threaten to undermine Western democracy by allowing misinformation, hate speech and unfiltered (and, to be fair, legal) polarizing political speech to circulate faster than a swipe of a smartphone.

Expect the global gaggle of lawmakers Tuesday to focus on their own national specific pain points.

In Brazil, falsehoods during the recent presidential election circulated widely on WhatsApp, the internet messaging service owned by Facebook. In France, far-right online tricksters attempted to undermine the electoral campaign of Macron to favor his far-right opponent, Marine Le Pen. And in Britain, campaigners say misinformation connected to the country’s referendum to leave the EU may have swayed people’s votes.

Protestors from the pressure group Avaaz demonstrate outside the parliament in London | Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

“There’s an enormous amount of propaganda being circulated by supporters without the support of official political parties,” said Margot James, the U.K.’s digital minister.

Zuckerberg needs to realize that such international complaints are more likely to undermine Facebook than the series of Congressional hearings that have garnered much of the attention since 2016.

Despite a recent awakening by U.S. lawmakers to the need for potential tech regulation, policymakers are pushing ahead with attempts to bring the social network to heel.

Not of all these regulatory land grabs (everything from Germany’s cumbersome hate speech rules to Myanmar’s efforts to target opposition on Facebook) are welcomed.

But if Zuckerberg spends most of his time placating U.S. concerns, and not on the legitimate (and more worrying) complaints from other countries where most of his users now live, the techie Millennial will soon find himself and his company left out of the debate.

Mark Scott is chief technology correspondent at POLITICO.

Digital Politics is a column about the global intersection of technology and the world of politics.

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