The Canadian Parliament has some heated words for Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg.
The CEO and COO were due to appear at a hearing this week regarding technology’s effect on society, but Facebook instead sent public policy executives to represent the company. The move didn’t sit well with Canadian lawmakers, who criticized Zuckerberg for willfully skipping the all-important antitrust meeting.
Tuesday’s Ottawa hearing was part of an internationally-represented coalition, with countries like the UK and Australia also being present. The executives could face being held in contempt of Parliament the next time they travel to the neighboring country. The slap on the wrist seems significant, given that the last time a public figure faced contempt charges from Canada was over a century ago, in 1913.
A civil contempt charge is usually handed out to those who “disrespect” the Commonwealth nation’s court summonses, though it is not considered a criminal offense.
Parliament member and chair of the hearing’s committee, Bob Zimmer, had some harsh words for Zuckerberg and Sandberg’s snub. “Shame on Mark Zuckerberg and shame on Sheryl Sandberg for not showing up today,” he said during the meeting. Sending alternative execs wasn’t good enough for Zimmer, who wanted to speak directly to the company’s top public-facing figures. “Knowing the structure of Facebook and how it is micro-managed right from the top, any change on the platform is done through Mr. Zuckerberg or through Ms. Sandberg.”
A Facebook spokesperson addressed the criticism by saying, “Ultimately this is a decision for Parliament—we’re not in a position to speculate. We share the committee’s desire to keep people safe and to hold companies like ours accountable. Right now, we’re focused on engaging in meaningful dialogue with the committee and look forward to answering their questions.”
“We look forward to answering their questions and remain committed to working with world leaders, governments, and industry experts to address these complex issues,” the spokesperson continued.
Zimmer went on to emphasize the importance of the global meeting, especially given the impact these companies have on all the nations represented during it. “Collectively, we represent about 450 million people, it’s a bigger population group than the U.S.,” Zimmer told CNN on Monday.
Furthermore, representatives from other Silicon Valley giants like Google and Twitter did make the trek north, perhaps making Facebook’s decision to take it lightly seem even more condemnable.
Given Zuckerberg’s current privacy-focused tour, in which he’s attempting to overhaul Facebook’s tarnished image via public dialogue, the decision to ignore Canada’s summonses is a surprising one.