Zuckerberg absent again; Facebook doesn’t seem to want to help itself

Facebook is a company which is consistently under fire for a rap sheet which seems to get longer with each passing day, but you have to wonder why it seems to be constantly compounding the problem by irritating lawmakers.

A picture speaks a thousand words, and the tweet below is giving a very simple message to the world; Facebook is bigger and more important than your feeble politicians.

Of course, the company will contest this interpretation, insisting it is doing everything possible to help politicians understand how they can build a bigger and brighter digital world, but with CEO Mark Zuckerberg continuing to ignore calls to attend examinations, there is a bit of a contradiction appearing. All he is doing is agitating politicians and offering up ammunition for haters to attack the platform and its executives.

Some might suggest, as Lord Richard Allan, Facebook’s Director for Policy in Europe, has done that Zucks cannot commit to every request. He has attended a couple, though the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has played a blinder here. They have ensured the representatives of nine nations, representing almost 500 million people, are all in the same place at the same time. Surely Zucks could squeeze this one into his schedule as it is much more efficient? No, apparently not.

What we are seeing at the moment is a game of chess, and Facebook is losing. The rules are going to change in the future, governing how companies like Facebook can make money, and the longer Zuckerberg continues to irritate legislators and regulators with his absence, the less influence Facebook will have in crafting these rules. This short exchange between Lord Allan and Chairman of the DCMS Committee Damian Collins demonstrates this point very well:

Collins: I put it to you that you have lost the trust of the international community to self-police and that we have to start looking at a method of holding you and your company to account, because Mr Zuckerberg, who is not here, does not appear willing to do the job himself.

Lord Allan: Again, I am going to agree with you. One of the areas that I am working on right now is precisely to understand the kind of regulatory framework that is in everyone’s interest. We have accepted, and Mr Zuckerberg has said himself that we accept, that this requires a regulatory framework and action by responsible companies like ours. It is the two in tandem, and as we go on to discuss false news and elections, I think the regulatory piece is going to be a really important part of that.

Collins: I don’t think it is up to Facebook to determine what regulatory structure it should be under. It should be up to Parliaments to determine that and that is why we here.

This short exchange demonstrates the position Facebook is walking itself into. In years gone, when people liked and trusted Facebook, the team might have been able to influence regulation which dictated how the business could be run. But scandals and a persistent insistence to irritate politicians has changed this. Facebook is being pushed outside the tent, the politicians are building the case against the company and it doesn’t seem to want to repair the broken bonds.

Every single time Zuckerberg refuses to attend one of these sessions he is giving the impression that such tasks are below him. Send one of the minions instead with prompt cards emblazoned with “I’ll get back to you on that one”. That is a phrase which has been consistently repeated, though as several of the politicians in this affair pointed out, Facebook is going to have to get back to them eventually. They won’t simple forget and move onto the next scandal.

Ian Lucas, another MP on the committee, pointed out Zuckerberg had promised the US Senate Committee a list of companies Facebook had banned due to violations of the platforms rules. This promise was made months ago and the list is yet to emerge. The “I’ll get back to you on that one” answer has run its course, and will just become another irritation to the politicians. Soon enough Facebook will have to deliver on the promises.

This scandal is growing day-by-day and the Facebook public relations team is looking woefully underqualified. The absence of Mark Zuckerberg has been well documented here, but all it is doing is compounding the political and PR sh*t-storm which is swirling around the company. Politicians are building the public hatred and mistrust towards the brand, and Zuckerberg is burying his head in the sand.

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