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Mark Zuckerberg agrees to public hearing after EU backlash

Matthew Field
Mark Zuckerberg will appear before MEPs - AFP

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has agreed to a public broadcast of his testimony before members of the European Parliament after the hearing was originally scheduled to occur in private, shielding Facebook from a public grilling.

On Tuesday, the Facebook chief executive will face MEPs in a live broadcast to answer questions over Facebook's role in a data scandal that saw the profile data of millions of Europeans harvested by an app and sold for use in political advertising.

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani announced Mr Zuckerberg would appear on a live feed after a backlash from MEPs who claimed a private hearing would allow him to escape public scrutiny, even after his appearances in the US were broadcast around the world

Mr Zuckerberg will now have to answer questions from Europe's justice and home affairs committee. 

The U-turn comes despite a snub to the UK Parliament's inquiry into fake news, which has called on Mr Zuckerberg to answer questions on four occasions, which have all been rejected. Mr Zuckerberg has been threatened with a formal summons by MPs if he does not attend.

Guy Verhofstadt, the Belgian politician tasked with leading Europe's Brexit negotiations, said pressure from the majority of the European Parliament's political alliances had forced President Tajani into pressuring Facebook for an open meeting.

President Tajani said: "I have personally discussed with Facebook CEO Mr Zuckerberg the possibility of webstreaming meeting with him. I am glad to announce that he has accepted this new request." Mr Zuckerberg will meet with MEPs at 5.15 pm on Tuesday.

The announcement comes amid renewed pressure for Facebook from left-wing groups in the US calling for the tech giant to be broken up. 

The anti-monopoly group Open Markets Institute and other left-leaning organisations will run a campaign against Facebook, according to US news site Axios, with slogans such as "Facebook keeps violating your privacy. Break it up." and "Mark Zuckerberg has a scary amount of power. We need to take it back."

US campaigners have called for a break-up of Facebook's different apps Credit: Facebook

The group are asking the US Federal Trade Commission to break up the company into separate businesses, splitting off Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger.

Facebook alone counts itself as having more than 2.2 billion users worldwide while its other apps count around 3 billion between them. The company has repeatedly sought to defend itself against accusations it is a monopoly.

Mr Zuckerberg told US politicians in April that the average American uses "eight different communication and social apps. So there’s a lot of different choice and a lot of innovation". Facebook owns three of these top downloaded US messaging apps, not including WhatsApp, which has 1.5bn users and is more popular outside the US.

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