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Zuckerberg vs. Europe

Wednesday, 23 May, 2018

During Mark Zuckerberg’s two days in April before the House of Representatives and the Senate in Washington, the criticism from the opposite side of the Atlantic was loud. The questioning politicians were uninformed, old, laughable and, to boot, American. If only urbane Europeans were allowed to get their hands on the Facebook CEO, the truth would out and the ruffian would pay the reckoning.

Well, yesterday the European Parliament had its moment when Mark Zuckerberg appeared in Brussels. And the outcome? The format was totally unfit for purpose and Zuckerberg didn’t make a single substantial pledge to change the way Facebook operated. Sure, he said he was very sorry about how his platform has been used by disreputable people for reprehensible purposes, but was that a sufficient piety for getting him to fly across the ocean? Fine words butter no parsnips, say the Eurocrats in the Berlaymont, before they order another bottle of Domaine Ramonet Montrachet Grand Cru.

The reality is that Zuckerberg was never under pressure yesterday and Facebook has nothing to fear from the European Parliament’s toothless tigers. What’s more, just a few hours before the Brussels “grilling”, Jake Kanter had a story in Business Insider titled “The backlash that never happened: New data shows people actually increased their Facebook usage after the Cambridge Analytica scandal.” Snippet:

The Cambridge Analytica data debacle was billed as Facebook’s biggest crisis, but it looks like it didn’t even leave a scratch on the company.

Facebook weathered the worst of the storm and usage actually increased, according to a client note from Goldman Sachs, citing ComScore figures. In other words, the #deleteFacebook backlash never really arrived.

Goldman Sachs said Facebook’s US unique users on mobile rose 7% year-on-year to 188.6 million in April, when the scandal was biting hard… The findings, coupled with a full recovery in Facebook’s share price, completely undercut other research, which suggested that people’s trust in Facebook has nosedived since mid-March, when whistleblower Christopher Wylie first helped reveal that 87 million users had their data compromised by Cambridge Analytica.”

The MEPs in Brussels and the Senators in Washington can huff and puff as much as the like but they’re not the smartest people in the room when dealing with Mark Zuckerberg. Moreover, he’s not afraid of them. So where does that leave the rest of us? We are on our own and we must live with the complex reality created by these powerful platforms.


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