Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg has been called an “arrogant corporate elite” and a “coward” by Labour deputy leader Tom Watson for failing to answer questions from MPs.
He said that he felt the UK did not matter to Mr Zuckerberg, because it is seen as “a little place on a map” and a “minor market to him”.
“You should always look to where you can do the most good – and what good comes from Mark Zuckerberg’s behaviour?,” Mr Watson said at an event in East London on Wednesday.
“He’s an arrogant corporate elite and he’s a coward – and he should be sitting in front of that Digital, [Culture, Media and Sport select] committee, which has cross-party unity and answering the questions that our democratic institutions need to know.
“For me, personally, the symbolism of that empty chair, having been through the phone hacking enquiry 10 years ago, it is really resonant.”
The Facebook chief executive has failed to turn up to hearings to answer questions before MPs on a range of social networking issues.
These issues include the tech giant’s handing of data breaches, allegations of business malpractice, repeated electoral interference and the rampant spread of disinformation and hate speech on the platform.
“It’s clear to me that for Zuckerberg…the United Kingdom is a little place on a map,” the MP continued.
“It’s a minor market for him and he doesn’t feel that he has to answer to the people in this room and to the citizens that use his services, and therefore, with that arrogance, the Government has to act.”
Speaking at the event organised by centre-left think tank Progressive Centre UK, the shadow secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, set out Labour’s view on the need for regulation of big tech firms.
Mr Watson said that tech firms with huge amounts of data on users needed to be held to account for happens on their platforms, similar to other industries.
“Unfortunately the leadership of some of these data monopolists have been so appalling that the only way you can get traction in their realm is to hit their bottom line,” he said.
“So when we talk about a regulator with teeth, we think that the fines regime has to be high enough to really hit these cash-rich monopolists, in order to change their behaviour.”
The MP for West Bromwich East said he was heartened that the Government wants change too, but accused it of being “dazzled by the scale of corporate profit for far too long without questioning how much of the value reaches the bulk of the population”.
A White Paper on online harms will be published by the Government by the end of winter setting out expectations for social media companies, followed by a consultation over the summer that will set out new laws that could enforce the removal of harmful content.