Who did you vote for: The UK Government or Facebook?
Sometimes it isn’t very clear.
On Tuesday it was revealed that in 2018 Matt Hancock, then the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), had held a secretive meeting with Mark Zuckerburg, CEO of Facebook, in which the former made obsequious promises about the UK Government’s willingness to get cosy with big tech.
Hancock offered to change the Government’s approach from “threatening regulation to encouraging collaborative working to ensure legislation is proportionate and innovation-friendly”.
This occurred despite the fact Zuckerburg had recently flouted Parliament, declining to attend a hearing of the DCMS Select Committee to which he had been called to answer questions about Facebook’s democratic responsibilities.
In public, Hancock had criticised Zuckerburg for this. In private the tone was much different, with Hancock going out of his way to ensure Zuckerburg that Facebook had the UK Government’s full support.
Before attending the meeting Zuckerburg had to receive numerous assurances from Hancock’s team that the meeting was going to be positive. In the meeting he threatened to pull UK investment.
Does that sound right to you? Elected representatives should be the ones making demands of powerful businessmen, not the other way round.
But what more can you expect from a Government that has done next to nothing to regulate big tech and protect our democracy, even after years of mounting evidence that something needs to be done?
We only know about this meeting because the Information Commissioner’s Office ordered DCMS to release the minutes after the Bureau of Investigative Journalism had been requesting to see them – as they have every right to do – since November 2018!
The whole situation stinks and the UK deserves better.
Big tech needs regulation – Facebook said so themselves in our 2019 consultation! – and the UK Government needs to deliver it. This will of course require a degree of dialogue between Westminster and Silicon Valley but it is not a dialogue between equals. One party is a private business. The other is a democratically elected Government. The democratic representatives set the terms, not the unelected billionaires.
Just today it was announced that a forty state coalition in the United States will be challenging Facebook over its monopolistic practices.
More of that in the UK please.