Facebook has suddenly refused to appear before a parliamentary committee into foreign interference, asking instead for its evidence to be rescheduled after the US election in November.
The chair of the inquiry, Labor Senator Jenny McAllister, was disappointed at the social media giant’s about-face given the publicity surrounding its platform being used for disinformation campaigns in the past.
Facebook was pencilled in to appear on Friday before the Select Committee on Foreign Interference through Social Media, alongside executives from popular video-sharing app TikTok.
But Senator McAllister said the company advised the committee on Tuesday it would no longer make senior staff available for questioning.
She argued it was “disappointing” Facebook had not adopted the same constructive approach as TikTok, and said it appeared “unwilling to participate in our processes of democratic accountability”.
“Facebook’s platform has been used by malicious actors to run sophisticated disinformation campaigns in elections around the globe,” Senator McAllister said.
“Eighty-four per cent of Australians are on Facebook. We use it to connect with other people and debate ideas that are important to our community.
“The Australian public deserve to know how Facebook manages the risks their platform presents to our democracy and public discourse.”
Facebook has been widely criticised for failing to stop manipulation of posts on its platform ahead of the last US election, allowing Russian meddling in the poll.
Millions of people had their personal data harvested from Facebook by Cambridge Analytica ahead of the 2016 presidential ballot, which was then used to influence the election.
In July this year, Facebook announced it would start labelling content that violated its policies ahead of this year’s election.
Social media companies have drawn the interest of Australia’s intelligence agencies, with TikTok facing scrutiny over its ties to the Chinese government.
The company denies any personal data is handed over to authorities.