Though Congress seems hesitant to impose serious regulations on Facebook — even after the platform has been cited as a primary motivator for the rise of autocrats across the globe, and criticized for allowing Cambridge Analytica to harvest user data in service of President Donald Trump’s improbable presidential campaign — European governments have proven to be less favorably inclined toward Mark Zuckerberg’s company.
The latest example of European skepticism toward the social media giant occurred on Wednesday, when a British parliamentary committee released documents showing how Facebook made “agreements with select companies to allow them access” to unique user data. According to the New York Times’ Adam Satariano, Zuckerberg’s company also “discussed shutting off access to companies it viewed as competitors.” per the New York Times.
The release of these internal documents, which were obtained as part of a lawsuit, were not well-received by Facebook. A company spokesperson claimed the revelations were “only part of the story and are presented in a way that is very misleading without additional context.”
The irony of Facebook’s concerns about alleged “misleading” reports that lack “additional context” are likely not lost on anyone who remembers the 2016 U.S. presidential race, when the social media platform became a febrile hive of fake news stories and conspiracy theories that were seen by hundreds of millions of voters. Critics have alleged that impact of Facebook’s “fake news” amplification was crucial to Trump’s upset win, which occurred by a margin of around 75,000 votes in three states.
With the help of Facebook user data that was obtained fraudulently by data firm Cambridge Analytica — in an operation overseen by former Trump campaign chairman and White House chief adviser Steve Bannon — possible persuadable voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and elsewhere were targeted with absurd stories about the former First Lady.
Despite initially downplaying the impact that his platform had on the 2016 presidential race, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg eventually changed his tune and said the company would renew its commitment to prioritizing “high quality” news.
Over 120 million Facebook users — about half of all eligible U.S. voters on the platform — were unwittingly exposed to Russian propaganda during the 2016 campaign, as a February indictment of Russian agents by special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of election interference noted.
In addition, the social media giant has faced a series of embarrassing revelations regarding what it apparently knew about abuses of data like the one that allowed “Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users” to be collected without their knowledge during Trump’s 2016 campaign.
More recently, Zuckerberg and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg have faced criticism after it was revealed the company hired a PR firm with close ties to Republicans that tried to blame protests against the social media giant on conservative boogeyman George Soros.
Studies have shown that Trump supporters are heavy consumers of “fake news,” with most of the content being accessed via Facebook.