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U.K. Lawmakers accuse Facebook's CEO of leadership failure (businessinsider.com)
111 points by SirLJ 35 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 98 comments

Facebook's market valuation, active user count, and other normal metrics of success for them don't appear to have been negatively influenced in any meaningful way despite the crap they've been subject to for the past 2+ years. Regardless of if Facebook is overall "good" thing to have around, from the perspective of Facebook's shareholders Zuckerburg has been a great leader for the company.

The MPs obviously talk about a leader from a society point of view, not the leader of a corporation per se. Someone making a ton of money for shareholders is not necessarily someone that's viewed with respect in a society.

> Facebook's market valuation, active user count, and other normal metrics of success for them don't appear to have been negatively influenced in any meaningful way

In The Netherlands the popularity has gone down in 2018 [1]

[1] https://www.iculture.nl/nieuws/facebook-nederland-minder-pop...

Many of the worst Roman emperors were beloved by the public even as they were dismantling the Senate and packing it with their supporters.

Not a million miles away from where we are now.

The same can be said about oil companies profiting from climate change. Or any other industry practice that harms consumers/society while raking in profits.

And this is exactly why it needs regulation.

May be. However lawmakers don’t roast oil execs. It seems to me like there is a lot of kabuki theater here and if law makers want to do something to improve social media, there are better ways to get Zuckerberg to co-operate than this method

IMHO the situation where a whole country, let alone the rest of the world, even needs Mr Zuckerberg's cooperation to keep functioning in a democratic way, is in itself the problem. I want him and his company in a position where his cooperation/non-cooperation are a nuisance at most, irrelevant at best.

> there are better ways to get Zuckerberg to co-operate

I think you misspelled "compell".

Regulatory compliance is not a matter of cooperation.

I don’t think the requirement that the CEO appear in a public deposition is part regulatory compliance( usually good faith). If Facebook is not in regulatory compliance, I am sure they will be fined millions.

probably need to be fined billions to get them to take it seriously

> And this is exactly why it needs regulation.

Regulation is a farce. It requires a body from which the regulations are spawned/enforced, and no such body is incorruptible. History shows us this time and again.

Hell, look at the example that you gave. Oil monopolies were come down upon hard in the early 20th century, and to what end? It's still a firebreathing monster of a corrupt economics.

Why is this downvoted? Is this not true? Or what is the mainstream argument against this?

Because "regulation" (legislation, rather) is the only way to keep a company from gaining too much power. Without legislation we live in an anarchy with no rules or laws. We might as well go back to the time before homo sapiens got into its dominating existence.

I'm wondering when the flashpoint will be when a standing government is publicly given the finger by a megacorporation. It's happening quite often these days through wishy-washy sideways explanations and question dodging worthy of the very government members that are doing the questioning, but eventually corporate executives will get to the point that they no longer find that they NEED to do such things, daring the world's presidents and parliaments to do anything to stop them.

At that point, I think society will need to question where they have given power: to the governments through taxes and laws, or to corporations through willful dollars and convenience? After all, what power does a body have if not granted it by the people (at least ideally)?

At which point the megacorps will discover that governments command actual loyalty and a monopoly on force. Corporations only have such massive power because institutions of government have abdicated their responsibility to control them. Maintaining that status quo requires business to at least pay lip service (and sometimes money) to the supremacy of government.

The point which GP refers to, where corporations find they will no longer need to pay lip service, is precisely the point where governments lose that monopoly of force.

I think we have a lot to learn from how generations of infighting for control of the Roman empire led to the disintegration of civic society that allowed the Christian church to fill the power vacuum. The transition from the Principate, during which Emperors still paid lip service to the Senate, to the Dominate, where the pretense was lifted, was made possible because centuries of factionalism had destroyed the foundations that allowed checks and balances to be enforced.

In addition: consider that “force” also relates to actions online. A government may be able to arrest employees of a company on its soil, but consider the consequences of Google turning off gmail/google access in the UK. Not parity, but that power is real and something governments should be worried about.

I imagine more the reams and reams of data that Google (and the rest of FAANG) has stored on each and every citizen, including those elected to power. They could utterly destroy virtually anyone sitting in office politically with a few keystrokes.

That also goes the other way what does 5 Eyes have on those in FAANG?

> They could utterly destroy virtually anyone sitting in office politically with a few keystrokes.

I don't think this is necessarily true. The Mayor of Toronto admitted to smoking cocaine, and after that regained his former seat on the city council.

The blackmail attempt on Bezos just recently.

Trump is president, despite the mountains of dirt on it.

Bill and Hillary Clinton are still touring.

I don't think the electorate cares if you're caught doing anything adults do, and low level corruption seems to be the norm in many developed democracies.

What could any of the large data-whore companies possibly have on anyone that would utterly destroy?

It would harm google far more than it would harm any government. Google users in other countries would abandon them en mass for alternative services, in case the same thing happened to them. It doesn’t even matter much whose fault it was.

Plenty of other countries besides China tightly control internet access.

Banning Facebook in the UK would cause them a significant amount of grief and likely close their London office (Facebook is the IDP for Facebook employees). Most folks are not going to go through the trouble of setting up VPNs for their phones to connect to Facebook.

I think it would be extremely electorally damaging to ban such a major site, because it would affect so many people, even if people aren't hugely openly fond of Facebook, there would be a huge amount of outrage and anger that the government has cut people off, even if it was for the right reasons.

Banning Facebook in the UK would definitely have an effect at the next polls, where the party in power and the prime minister would definitely be held to account very severely. No semi-democratic country can consider this course of action unless the service is really unpopular.

I find it unlikely that any corporation being banned would have any substantial impact in an election. After all, we’ve elected some really awful people with far worse policies. The UK voted leave. I doubt they’ll vote to defend Facebook, after they blatantly flout UK law. I’d expect that taking a stand would actually win the party in power more votes.

Don’t underestimate populism: if the UK is concerned about Facebook, it isn’t because their citizens aren’t using it! And if their citizens are using it and like using it, then they will be pissed if it’s banned. Now, maybe if the percent of Facebook users is small, there isn’t much need to worrry, but if it’s above 10 or 20%, then that is more than enough to easily turn an election.

China had no problem banning gmail even though it was popular there because no one had to suffer through an election for the decision. The UK doesn’t have that luxury.

> At which point the megacorps will discover that governments command actual loyalty and a monopoly on force.

Agreed, but only with the caveat that that is temporary. I think we are rapidly approaching the point that corporations will be able to sidestep the rug governments currently threaten to pull out from under them. I think that tipping point will be an interesting, if not horrifying inflection point in our history.

Furthermore, much of (at least in the US's case) the "force" you speak of is now rooted in the military-industrial complex. What happens when defense contractors find that it might be more profitable to throw their hat in with a megacorp rather than the government? It's a scary thought.

How, exactly, are we approaching that point? You think militaries and police are becoming less capable? That employees are becoming more loyal to their employers?

Think of it less like the relationship between cops and robbers, and more like the relationship between tax authorities and users of shady offshore tax havens.

No voters or politicians publicly come out in favour of offshore tax havens... and yet somehow, 20 years later they're still there.

Very few tax havens have their own armed forces.

The UK Prime Minister could phone up the head of any British Overseas Territory today and invite them to reform their tax reporting or else a Tomahawk will be fired at their office.

Megacorps will find it hard to resist Gunboat Diplomacy.

> You think militaries and police are becoming less capable?

What guarantees that they will always be on the side of governments?

> That employees are becoming more loyal to their employers?

No, but the common citizen is becoming that way. Right now, are people more likely to call up their representative to try to get something done, or post something to facebook related to their political leanings?

That's not a request to Facebook for help. It's a call to their fellow citizens, with Facebook being a (not very well respected) intermediary. Facebook can interfere with that means of communication, but it can't interfere with military/police chains of command, or physically stop a SWAT team from showing up at Zuckerberg's front door and at Facebook sysadmin's offices.

That might apply to Facebook. But governments are loath to show a force like this which might destabilize markets. It’s not blockbuster action sequences it’s a slow transition of power.

> What guarantees that they will always be on the side of governments?

Most people who join militaries are not career military types and most also care greatly which side they're on. True mercenaries are extremely rare.

How many divisions does The Zuck have?

None, of course. As I said, I don't think we will see anything like this happen with Facebook, but that might not be the case if megacorp monopolies continue to garner political power.

Let loose the automatons. K-mode, engage!

That monopoly on force works great against entities within your country, but it’s a lot less threatening for foreign entities.

Let’s say that Zukerberg tells the UK government to fuck off. There would surely be consequences against Facebook’s UK assets, and maybe employees. But that’s a small part of Facebook overall, and he may decide this is worth it. Direct consequences for him will be limited. He probably couldn’t travel to the UK anymore, but would anyone else extradite him for this sort of thing? Seems unlikely. And it’s not like the UK is going to send in the SAS to kidnap him in another country.

Why does Facebook want to have UK users? Because he gets paid for advertising.

Who advertises on Facebook and targets UK users? Companies in the UK.

Who controls the banking system through which that money flows? The UK banking system.

There are many sanctions the UK can impose short of a full ban. They can issue fines (and collect them), interfere with the Facebook cash flow, in the case of things that are crimes in both the UK and the US can formally request extradition, etc.

I think the HN crowd has been reading a bit too much cyberpunk.

How do you think this has changed since 2008 proved a relatively small number of corps acting together can crash the global economy in a weekend?

Because they were not actually doing anything that directly challenged the authority of governments. If they step out of line to the extent of a direct challenge, governments will just arrest management until they get new managers/owners who behave, as we see constantly in China where the threshold for pissing off the authorities is much lower.

Early on in the Roman Principate, the Senate was able to remove emperors by declaring them enemies of the state, but this only worked so long, as eventually the power of the Senate was undermined. You will notice that there are factions in the US Government who wish to undermine the authority of our government as well. State govermnents are already nearing bankruptcy, so the check on federal government is dismantled. We are currently seeing the balance of the federal government being undermined by identity-driven politics from multiple factions. Next, we are going to see crises driven by politics and climate that will require loosening of ideology in favor of pragmatic solutions, and this will be the groundwork for further dismantling our civic institutions. Piece by piece, the authority of the government will decline until the military will follow whoever can afford to pay them.

We didn’t arrest any executives in 2009, likely out of fear of the signal it would send the markets — so no I don’t believe the Chinese example applies here.

There's not going to be a day where a publicly traded company gives a standing government the finger. Private companies seem like more of a possibility for this outcome, but I don't think any of the super well funded ones are that suicidal.

You'll see well funded PACs for the rest of your life.

The politicians aren't naive. They are inviting some level of campaign funding by threatening these companies. Google clearly has gotten the message. Facebook's spend is increasing significantly.

Google PAC: https://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/lookup2.php?strID=C00428623 FB PAC: https://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/lookup2.php?strID=C00502906

> eventually corporate executives will get to the point that they no longer find that they NEED to do such things, daring the world's presidents and parliaments to do anything to stop them.

I doubt it. It's always going to be more profitable to be careful, answering the questions you can, avoiding the questions you can't. Better a faux outraged MP than a legitimately angry and crusading one.

Zuckerberg did not show up to this because frankly if he showed up to every piddly committee overseeing $2B of budget he was requested to attend on, he'd spend all his time doing that and none doing anything else. If they genuinely wanted information, they can ask for it, and his team can provide it (which is indeed what happened). They don't care about information, though. What they want is a whipping boy. It's not "giving someone the middle finger" to refuse to provide them an opportunity to grandstand at your expense. Especially if you have no legal obligation to turn up.

I mean, does anyone honestly think the outcome would have been different if he attended? People yell at him if he shows up and yell at him if he doesn't. If I were him, the calculation would simply be, "Will they yell a lot more if I don't come? Or will anything else bad happen? No? Then I'd rather save myself the time."

Do you mean to say you anticipate Facebook publicly stating that they refuse to comply with the law? I don't think that's liable to last very long in any country where they have a physical presence.

A more likely outcome is that while FB gives a "soft" finger to the government by questioning the law, anti-government disinformation magically accelerates and floods Facebook, causing the formerly loyal citizens to believe that the government is controlled by shadowy Jewish financiers, and that the government's attacks on FB are an attempt to suppress this vital free speech, &c.


I'm old enough to remember when saying something like this earned you a free tinfoil hat and the condemnation of your saner friends.

to be fair, that still sounds insane to me

They don't need to do anything as explicit as that. They can wield their vast power in much subtler ways - promoting competing political content, blackouts, etc.

Control the feed, control the people. Politicians will have to fall in line.

Exactly, which is why I think a literal flipping of the bird to authority is beyond pointless from FB's perspective. They can continue to work contrary to the interests of the state with a wink and a nod.

More to the point, they have a legal entity in the UK:


NB Pretty normal for a multinational to have at least one (and sometimes many) legal entities in each country where it has physical operations (offices, employees etc.).

That's a fair point. I emphasized physical presence because governments exert their power within a physical space that they control. If you defy the power of the state within its own territory, you're in for a bad time. But you're right that there's no need for it to come to guns and muscle when their ability to make money depends on their compliance with local laws.

No, I don't see this happening any time soon. But it isn't outside the realm of possibility that something could indeed happen, possibly before the turn of the next century.

Well, to be fair these congressional hearings are mostly nonsense political grandstanding anyway. It's some congressman scoring political points by ranting at Zuckerburg about things they don't really understand and Zuckerburg playing along. If the government were serious, they would start bringing lawsuits against the company or would threaten to craft regulations to reign in the behavior. They are not doing so, so they are obviously not serious. The minute the government starts to do such things, Zuckerburg will also be more serious.

I hope very soon. Then we can end this absurd experiment where multinationals and trade deals are above countries.

British lawmakers accuse Zuckerberg of spectacular leadership failure? Hmm...

It’s not that I don’t agree, it’s just a funny accusation coming from them.

"It takes one to spot one". They must be speaking from their own experience/mastery of the subject.

I can't imagine being a British lawmaker looking at re-election options right now.

Probably a fair amount of blood being pissed, bricks being shat.

I'm intrigued by the incentives that Zuckerberg would have to show up to a hearing like this..

1. What is the legal risk of not showing up? What are these lawmakers likely to do against him or Facebook? Can they compel him to personally testify?

2. What would be the moral obligation of showing up to answer questions? What does he owe them, really?

3. What is best for the financial interests of the company? What good would come out of sending Zuck out?

I assume his decision was mostly directed by the answer to number 3, but the others are curious thought experiments.

The motivation to comply would come from the risk of having harmful legislation passed if you don't. Zuck either didn't think they'd do that, or didn't care if they did, or thought they'd pass legislation either way so why bother.

He was right though, it'd be just a circlejerk intended to present Facebook in a negative light and give a good show to voters.

There's nothing he can do or say that would make any politician emphatic to him and Facebook in a hearing.

There is zero legal risk unless they decide to subpoena him, which they did not.

The reason to show up is that these people have the power to make laws and make Facebook's collective life in the UK difficult, and so it is in Zuckerberg's interest not to piss them off.

However, there may have been a calculation that him showing up wasn't going to make much difference to the opinions of MPs, and might provide video clips that were bad publicity.

I'd imagine the answer to 1 would be placing your corporation at risk of being sanctioned or dissolved within the jurisdiction in question. There could be criminal charges as well.

If I recall, the U.S. crime of contempt of Congress is a misdemeanor, escalating to the felonious perjury if you show up and lie.

Both are criminal offenses, and both based on England's Parliamentary power to hold people in contempt.

2. If you wish to benefit from the protection of nation's laws, you'd best be willing to give their legislative bodies the benefit of your time. The fiduciary responsibility to U.S. stockholders means doing something that could severely depreciate share/stock prices could open an executive up to legal problems as well.

3. Not losing the capability to do business in another country ranks pretty high on best for the company. Morally speaking, the pursuit of profit normatively should not jeopardize diplomatic relationships between allies as well, but I won't pretend to know much more about international business than that.

It’s a hard question. We live in tumultuous times... a more left wing government could use Facebooks’ contempt for all against them, harshly.

Could you please elaborate on how the political leaning of the government could affect this situation?

In the US, the political will to clamp down on telecom and entities like Facebook just isn’t there, because they tend to benefit from it and that type of end to end regulation isn’t in alignment with their broader interests.

A more left wing US administration and Congress would be able to make sweeping changes that would heavily impact Facebook. The FCC has regulatory powers that could be expanded, legislation could enact something like the former fairness doctrine, etc.

The global power of the federal government is not well appreciated.

Thanks for clarifying, I was initially confused because the article is UK/EU-based where such differentiations aren't as prevalent.

I think they feed each other as the US/UK wouldn’t allow for serious sanction of a major US company unless political conditions get much worse.

Likewise a right wing government could also choose more protectionist measures by blocking Facebook in favour of a home-grown solution. Much like China and a few other countries in the world...

You can therefore argue that Facebook depends upon there being a stable centrist/liberal government in power.

It’s so awkward seeing Mark Zuckerberg try to navigate all this and mostly failing, despite being a generally smart guy and all that.

I’ve heard once you get in power you’ll be surrounded by 1). Ppl who are just like you because we as humans prefer that and 2). Ppl who flatter you very convincingly because we as humans also prefer that.

This can be a very dangerous situation to be in. You think everything is alright while outside the world flails and rages.

Who in the world is advising Mark Zuckerberg?

I suspect Zuckerberg’s failures have little to do with a lack of intelligence or poor management, but with the fact that Facebook has unprecedented power and size, and the only possible solutions to fix the problems Facebook presents, (massive regulation, or breakup) are not possible for him to suggest.

I'm not a Zuckerberg sympathiser, but whatever he is doing is a really stressful job.

Scaling is hard, and everyone fails a few times on the way.

Still, these UK lawmakers taunting him is extremely ironic.

A select committee is distinct from government, and Theresa May's inability to organise a piss up in a brewery. They are carefully bipartisan. DCMS committee currently has an equal number from Labour and Tories, and one SNP. Committees are equally happy to lay into government.

As has been the case for 40 years (some might claim 200) or more, the Tories would prefer to put the Tories before anything trivial like "the National Interest". Brexit was guaranteed to be a dumpster fire from the moment Cameron put a referendum in the manifesto.

There is no failure. It is FB business model.

UK government with its shady GCHQ, and all-around general incompetancy isn't realy someone to be trusted to understand and act on such nuanced issues.

The UK government and its organizations have had history of extra judicial killings(Esp during the Troubles), and stockpiling nuclear weapons, morally the stuff that FB is being called out for isn't even on the same scale.

Edit: Ignore my post. Original title is longer than the max title length for posts.

The post title doesn't match the article's title. The post is "Zuckerberg roasted by lawmakers, accuse him of spectacular leadership failure", but the article is "Mark Zuckerberg humiliated by group of lawmakers, who accuse Facebook's CEO of spectacular leadership failure."

The internet archive goes back to 23 minutes after the article was originally posted [0], and it still has the current title. The original poster editorialized the title.

[0] https://web.archive.org/web/20190218130633/https://www.busin...

Except that title was too long by 30 chars. There's an 80 character limit on titles, if you didn't know.

"So if the title does not fit, you must edit it".

I didn't know that. Thanks for letting me know.

It's not leadership failure. It is what Facebook IS fundamentally as a company. There are no rules. They proven it time and again. There is no real will to do anything differently.

Usual british arrogance. THE USA ARE NOT A BRITISH COLONY. The opposite might very well be true tho.

Kettle meet Pot, Pot meet Kettle.

To be fair, UK lawmakers are very familiar with leadership failure these days.

The UK's Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee on Monday released its report on disinformation and "fake news" following an 18-month inquiry, which took in evidence from 73 witnesses.

The report called for urgent regulation of Facebook — including an independent UK body to stamp out harmful or illegal content — and skewered Zuckerberg for refusing to give evidence to the committee three times.

I almost closed my browser tab at "fake news". There are legitimate concerns about Facebook, but this isn't it. The UK government seems bound and determined to increase it's censorship foothold.

Can anyone in the UK comment on how these types of things are received by regular citizens? Are you concerned that your government is cracking down on content with censorship left and right?

"I almost closed my browser tab at "fake news". There are legitimate concerns about Facebook, but this isn't it."

That's one of the main concerns about Facebook (aside from privacy).

Anyone can post any kind of fake story with tremendous reach and no accountability or traceability.


CNBC pretending like this is a big deal is fake news.

I think all kinds, on both political isles, walks of life, etc. Would genuinely enjoy an official "Roast of Mark Zuckerberg" streamed live and hosted by Jeff Ross.

With all proceeds of the stream / adverts given to the EFF or CitizenLab et al.

Pls commend or DM if you'd be interested in contributing to a crow-funded campaign for this.

I'd bet we'd surpass the crowd-funding records set by Star Citizen...

Could be a whole new kind of "public justice by civic discourse for charity"? lmao

Can we please, please, as a culture, quit treating the idea that someone was 'roasted' or 'embarrassed' or 'wrecked' as if it's news? If you're a news source, tell me the facts supported by salient and educated opinions about important situations. Leave the comedic commentary to John Oliver.

I don't want to take the part of Zuckerberg nor Facebook, but "spectacular leadership failure" from UK lawmakers after two years trying to get out of EU is a bit funny.

Why do you think they are so enraged at Facebook? Cambridge Analytica and the data they stole through Facebook was pivotal for the UK's "Leave" campaign.

"Stole" is the wrong word. Facebook gave it to them.

> Cambridge Analytica and the data they stole through Facebook was pivotal for the UK's "Leave" campaign.


update, pls see my comment before downvoting: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19192463

Isn't this in the actual report that we're supposedly discussing even though none of us has read the whole thing?

> Isn't this in the actual report

Ok found the source referred in the report https://www.upguard.com/breaches/aggregate-iq-part-two-brexi...

I still don't see where it says "Cambridge was pivotal to brexit."

It links it to something called "AggregateIQ" not Cambridge. Am i reading this wrong?

Still a valid argument, nonetheless.

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