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- Filings show Facebook shelled out a record amount on its European lobbying operations in 2017, doubling spend to $3 million.
- The company faced multiple crises last year, including the spread of fake news, terrorist content, and election interference.
- European officials have called on Mark Zuckerberg and other senior Facebook execs to appear before the European Parliament to explain the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
- This year won’t be any easier for Facebook as it navigates strict new privacy laws, and politicians who are increasingly determined to regulate the tech giants.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg really doesn’t want to appear before European politicians and explain the firm’s recent privacy scandals, but he’s happy spending billions to quietly influence their views.
Facebook spent a record figure on its European lobbying operations in 2017, as it tried to stave off multiple crises such as fake news, the spread of hate speech, and incoming privacy regulation.
According to European transparency filings published this week, the company doubled its lobbying spend in 2017 to as much as €2.5 million ($3 million, £2.1 million), up from around €1.2 million ($1.5 million, £1 million) in 2016. It also increased the number of lobbyists from 10 to 15 staffers.
The cash covers every aspect of Facebook’s lobbying costs, including wages, office and admin expenses, operational expenditures, and fees paid out to consultancies and trade associations.
According to historical filings collated by LobbyFacts, Facebook spent less than €500,000 ($616,000, £434,000) on EU lobbying in 2011. That this has increased four-fold indicates heightened European scrutiny of Facebook and other tech giants.
While the Cambridge Analytica data scandal is Facebook’s biggest crisis yet, governments were already turning the screw on Facebook in 2017.
The company was under pressure to explain how Russian trolls used its platform to spread misinformation during the US presidential election in 2016.
In Europe, Russian intelligence officials tried to use Facebook to spy on French president Emmanuel Macron. In the UK, MPs asked Facebook again and again how hate speech kept appearing on its platform. And Germany introduced strict new laws governing how quickly social media sites had to remove hate speech before paying massive fines.
This year won’t be any easier, or cheaper. Facebook has begun rolling out privacy updates to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). If Europe finds Facebook wanting, data regulators will have the power to fine the firm up to 4% of its annual turnover.
An EU politicians would still like to see Mark Zuckerberg in person over the Cambridge Analytica scandal, rather than his policy underlings. After European Parliament president Antonio Tajani called on Zuckerberg to explain himself before the assembly, Sheryl Sandberg planned to meet with officials to discuss the firm’s privacy policies this month.