Yes, we know that headline is basically the opposite of one we ran last week, but a lot can happen in eight days; Facebook has reversed its decision to meet with the Communications and Digital Technologies Committee – a meeting that supposed to take place next week.
We have to say, we were surprised that Facebook agreed to meet with the committee last week. We also have to say, we are completely unsurprised that the social media giant has pulled out of the meeting today.
Facebook snubs parliament while Google confirms attendance
“It is most unfortunate that Facebook has at the eleventh hour withdrawn its commitment to meet with the committee of Communications and Digital Technologies after agreeing to do so,” says Phumzile Van Damme, who originally spearheaded efforts to make this meeting happen.
“It is clear that the company has something to hide and holds no respect for the people of South Africa, or those on the Africa continent.”
Van Damme went onto say she’s encouraged that Google has confirmed its attendance, despite Facebook’s withdrawal.
“I look forward to what will be a constructive discussion with the company regarding its efforts to manage misinformation on its social media platform, YouTube, and other issues. Misinformation increases during election season, and it is important that social media companies take steps to ensure that influence operations like we saw with Bell Pottinger do not manipulate public discourse in South Africa, and our election is free and fair.”
“The regulator joins countries like India, Brazil and Germany where its data protection regulator has banned Facebook from processing personal data from WhatsApp, and is seeking an European Union (EU) wide ban,” she said.
Van Damme was also quick to point out that the invitation to Facebook was an opening of the door to a constructive relationship with MPs who are elected to represent the people of South Africa. She said its rejection of the invitation will now create an environment where it is viewed with great suspicion and possibly face a public and international backlash for its treatment of the South African Parliament no doubt in part, due the narrative widely held of the “dark continent,” undeserving of respect or regard.
“Regardless of whether it appears before the Committee or not, the DA will be sure that the manner in which Facebook conducts business in South Africa will be one where our laws are respected and the rights of South African protected,” she said.
“Google’s openness should serve as an example to other Big Tech companies in South Africa. It is far more desirable to operate hand-in-hand, rather than a litigious, acrimonious space which may result in a destructive response from government against those companies.”
Van Damme’s sentiments echo those of the EU who are set demand tougher pledges from big tech to tackle the spread of misinformation.