Zuckerberg threatened to pull investment from the UK

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg threatened to pull investment out of the UK if the government did not look to soften its stance on the regulation of Silicon Valley companies, according to a document published on Tuesday.

In response Matt Hancock, who held the meeting with Zuckerberg in 2018 when he was culture secretary, said that the UK could “shift from threatening regulation to encouraging collaborative working to ensure legislation is proportionate and innovation-friendly”.

The conversation, recorded in minutes of a meeting the pair held at a technology summit in Paris, was revealed by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) following a two-year freedom of information battle.

Zuckerberg complained that the UK government was “anti-tech” and joked that Britain might become one of only two countries he could not visit. The other country is redacted in the official notes taken by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, but the BIJ said it matched the words “except China”.

“If there really is a widespread perception in the [Silicon] Valley that the UK government is anti-tech then shifting the tone is vital,” the minutes state. “London Tech Week is a great opportunity and couldn’t have arrived at a better time.”

Zuckerberg met Hancock as he faced heavy criticism for failing to appear before a committee of MPs investigating the issue of fake news. He is recorded in the minutes as saying Facebook was “considering looking elsewhere” for a European territory to invest in because of the bad publicity the company was receiving from the cross-party House of Commons culture select committee.

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Hancock sought “increased dialogue” with Zuckerberg so he could “bring forward the message that he has support from Facebook at the highest level”, said the minutes of the meeting.

The following month, Hancock had a meeting with Elliot Schrage, then a top Facebook lobbyist. Schrage later wrote to the then culture secretary thanking him for the meeting about “how we can work together on building a model for sensible co-regulation on online safety issues”. He added that Facebook was close to providing an update on its “commitment to London”. The minutes also state that Hancock was due to visit Facebook in September 2018, but this meeting did not take place as he was moved to the post of health secretary.

“Facebook has long said we need new regulations to set high standards across the internet,” said a Facebook spokesman. “In fact last year Mark Zuckerberg called on governments to establish new rules around harmful content, privacy, data portability, and election integrity. The UK is our largest engineering hub outside the US and just this year we created 1,000 new roles in the country.”

A spokesman for the DCMS said: “We are completely committed to tackling online harms and have set out tough, world-leading proposals that will make the internet safer for UK citizens. We will outline full details on plans for new regulations imminently that will include tough sanctions for digital firms who do not step up in a fair and proportionate approach.”


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