Facebook doesn’t have any employees registered as lobbyists in Ottawa. It’s a curious fact that is raising questions in the capital.
The fact could simply be taken as evidence of Facebook’s lofty indifference to government policy.
But we know that isn’t right. Facebook is a corporate giant whose algorithms affect election outcomes the world over, and whose handling of user data in the Cambridge Analytica affair has raised the need for government oversight.
And consider how much it spends bending officials’ ears in the United States. The U.S. Center for Responsive Politics calculated that Facebook spent US$11.5 million on lobbying last year – less than Alphabet or Amazon, but not by much.
To be clear, there is no evidence Facebook has done anything improperly. It’s also possible that Facebook has misunderstood the rules. The threshold for registration is fairly complicated and subject to some interpretation.
The rules say a company has to register employees if they collectively spend 20 per cent or more of one worker’s time lobbying in a given month. It’s possible that Facebook’s Canadian office doesn’t reach that threshold: That’s the argument of the office’s director of public policy, Kevin Chan.
But it’s hard to square that with the fact that Google lists eight employees in the registry, including five who alone spend 20 per cent or more of their time lobbying. It seems odd that Facebook should be exponentially less interested in influencing lawmakers.
What’s needed is an investigation by the federal lobbying commissioner, an idea first mooted by the non-profit Democracy Watch. The law does not require evidence of broken rules to trigger such an investigation. The commissioner only needs reason to believe an investigation is “necessary to ensure compliance” with the Lobbying Act.
Mr. Chan said last week that questions along these lines “go to the heart of the company’s integrity.” Just so. His company is under scrutiny at the moment.
For the public’s sake and, frankly, for Facebook’s, the commissioner should look into whether or not any of the firm’s employees belong in the lobbying registry.
Facebook Canada's public policy head Kevin Chan appeared before a parliamentary committee in Ottawa on privacy and data.