Facebook refuses to appear before SA Parliament on its own

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  • Facebook was supposed to appear before a parliamentary committee this week, but has bowed out. 
  • It was supposed to talk about what measures it will take to prevent misinformation ahead of the local government elections.
  • But it doesn't want to be the only tech company in Parliament, so Facebook has asked for a postponement.

Facebook, which was due to appear before Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Communications and Digital Technologies this week, will be a no-show.

Earlier this month, the DA said that Facebook - which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp - was expected to explain what steps it is taking in tackling harmful misinformation, particularly ahead of the 2021 local government elections.

Facebook says it asked for a postponement, because it doesn’t want to be the only tech company represented in Parliament.

"We believe as a tech industry, it is important that we collectively come together to outline how we support elections and ensure election integrity in light of the local government elections taking place later this year," Kojo Boakye, Facebook's public policy director for Africa, said in a statement.

"The roundtable with the parliamentary committee was meant to do just that. Early last week, representatives of the committee informed us that, at that time, Facebook was the only company that had confirmed its participation in this week's roundtable. Without more industry players and other key stakeholders present, we believed the roundtable would not meet the objectives that were outlined to us, hence we requested that the roundtable be postponed to a later date. 

"Our commitment to participating in a roundtable is well documented. We remain committed to engaging with national governments and have clearly indicated to the committee that we welcome ongoing dialogue, and a meeting at a later date."

Earlier this month, the DA’s Phumzile van Damme – who has since resigned as a member of Parliament – said that Google and Twitter were also invited to appear.

The DA hoped that the parliamentary meeting, which was scheduled for Tuesday, 25 May, would be "the beginning of discussions regarding Facebook paying South African media houses for carrying their content as was recently successfully implemented in Australia".

The Australian government recently introduced new legislation forcing the tech giants to pay local media companies for using content on their platforms.

A bitter battle erupted, which saw Facebook "switching off" Australian news on its platform for a week. In the end, however, both Facebook and Google announced agreements with Australian media groups to pay for their content.

The protection of the private data of South African users of Facebook-owned platforms was also expected to be a point of discussion in Parliament.

Facebook's WhatsApp has come under fire for controversial changes to its privacy policy update, which has also been blasted by South Africa’s Information Regulator.

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