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Government to hold talks with Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg over regulating tech giants

Culture secretary will use the 30-minute meeting to explore ways to remove harmful content from social media

Zuckerberg looking worried

The culture secretary will hold talks with Mark Zuckerberg today in an attempt to engage the Facebook CEO just weeks before the government releases proposals to regulate big tech companies.

Secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS) Jeremy Wright will be granted 30 minutes of Zuckerberg's time, according to the BBC, at the company's Californian headquarters today.

The meeting has been scheduled in the wake of growing pressure on the role social media giants are playing in exacerbating mental health conditions in young people, with repeated suggestions from the government they are ready to legislate.

Facebook has also this week been lambasted by the DCMS select committee in the findings of its 18-month investigation into fake news and disinformation, with the influential group of MPs accusing the tech giant of behaving like "digital gangsters".

Zuckerberg had refused to meet with or give evidence to the committee during its investigation, much to the ire of its chair Damian Collins MP, who has made countless attempts to engage the Facebook founder.

But the culture secretary, leading a UK delegation that includes digital minister Margot James, will speak with Zuckerberg about ways to prevent online harm, in an attempt to gauge his views ahead of publishing a legislative white paper. The Californian trip will also include meetings with Apple, Google, and Twitter among other firms.

Due in the next few weeks, the white paper will outline the government's thinking on how to regulate tech giants for the first time, with mounting speculation that any new proposals will include setting up an industry watchdog.

An independent regulator, akin to Ofcom for telecoms firms, are among the range of measures proposed in the DCMS committee's report, as well as its demand for a compulsory code of conduct.

The 108-page report particularly focused on how Facebook failed to prevent the spread of fake news and disinformation on its platform during political campaigns, as well as failed to deal with known sources of harmful content.

The committee also accused the social media firm of deliberately disregarding data privacy principles and willfully breaking data laws in the interests of "profit over data security".

"We believe that in its evidence to the Committee Facebook has often deliberately sought to frustrate our work, by giving incomplete, disingenuous and at times misleading answers to our questions," Collins said after the publication of his report.

"Even if Mark Zuckerberg doesn't believe he is accountable to the UK Parliament, he is to the billions of Facebook users across the world. Evidence uncovered by my Committee shows he still has questions to answer yet he's continued to duck them, refusing to respond to our invitations directly or sending representatives who don't have the right information."

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