Next week the Portfolio Committee on Communications is set to host a virtual roundtable where the impact of digital media in misinformation and content moderation is being discussed.
Silicon Valley bigwigs Google, Twitter, and Facebook have been invited to the discussion and while Facebook previously confirmed its attendance, the social network has reportedly changed its mind and will no longer be attending the session.
“It is most unfortunate that Facebook has at the eleventh hour withdrawn its commitment to meet with the committee of Communications and Digital Technologies after agreeing to do so,” the Democratic Alliance’s Phumzile Van Damme told Stuff.
“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,” the now former MP added.
I posted this in jest yesterday morning. Hours later we’re told Facebook has decided to go back on its commitment to appear before our committee. Cowardly. Ill-advised. Ordering a storm unprovoked. https://t.co/811XTkm44Q
— Phumzile Van Damme (@zilevandamme) May 20, 2021
Shortly after posting the above tweet, Van Damme said that Google had confirmed it would attend the virtual roundtable.
We’re curious to know why Facebook has decided to change its mind.
“Protecting people’s information is a priority for us at Facebook. We are committed to respecting South African users’ privacy and safety. We will continue to engage with national governments and welcome ongoing dialogue,” Facebook said earlier this year when the meeting was first proposed.
So what changed between now and then? According to Facebook Public Policy director for Africa, Kojo Boakye it’s because no other big tech firms had confirmed their attendance.
“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. The Roundtable with the Parliamentary Committee was meant to do just that. Earlier this week, representatives of the Committee informed us that, at that time, Facebook was the only company that had confirmed its participation in next 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,” Boakye told Hypertext via email.
“Facebook has teams and technology in place to protect the integrity of elections in South Africa, across Africa and around the world. We devote extensive resources to reducing the spread of misinformation and fighting election interference on our platforms. 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,” adds the director.
This is a lame excuse Facebook. Whether or not the roundtable meets the objectives set out is not for you to decide and it is most certainly now looks that the firm is anything but committed to engaging with local government. This also just looks bad externally when Mark Zuckerberg has spoken with other governments previously.
There is no word on whether Twitter will be attending but we aren’t holding our breath given the firm only just recently announced that its opening an office in Africa.
At least Google is attending this roundtable, though now that Facebook has pulled out we aren’t sure Google want to be in that Roundtable on its ace.
Maybe this is a good thing though, Mark Zuckerberg likely would’ve spent much of the roundtable dreaming about smoked meats.