20:55 GMT18 September 2020
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    Large technology and social media companies have come under increasing pressure in recent years over their ability to influence public opinion and lobbying power.

    Facebook has been accused by a Tory minister of attempting to influence Government policy before it is written by hiring former leading Westminister lawmakers.

    Damian Collins, the former chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, told the Times on Tuesday that Facebook is "clearly hiring people who have both direct personal knowledge" of the latest thinking on how this could be developed, and "extensive networks amongst the officials who will be advising ministers on these issues".

    "They are doing this to try and change the direction of policy before it is even launched", he said.

    Julian Knight, the committee's current chairman, also accused "big tech" of taking over "from the likes of banking, oil and pharmaceuticals in terms of their lobbying power".

    The social media company has reportedly used financial leverage to headhunt 10 former officials who were involved in the drawing up of online regulation in recent months.

    According to the Times, Shane Murphy, the former head of policy on international data transfers at DCMS, Caroline Hurst, the former senior policy adviser on internet safety, and Annabel Brody, who heads media regulation, have all been hired. Other officials have also joined Facebook from the Cabinet Office, the Home Office, and UK counter-terrorism.

    "When a group of civil servants from different departments go to work for the same employer relating to their previous policy brief, all within a relatively short period of time, it surely can't be a coincidence", a spokesman for campaigning organisation Transparency International said.

    Facebook, however, is adamant that no rules have been broken and that having people "with a range of expertise" helps ensure that "policies and rules are effective and up to date".

    "Our policy teams play a key role in developing and applying Facebook's policies such as our community standards which set out what is and isn't allowed on our platforms", the social media giant told the Times. 

    "Facebook has actively called for new regulations to set high standards across the internet and so that private companies aren't making so many of these important decisions alone".

    The company rejects accusations of wrongdoing and last year hired former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg as a lobbyist and public relations officer.

    Facebook, owned by billionaire Mark Zuckerberg, is among a variety of large firms under scrutiny ranging from online hate to tax avoidance.


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    Community standardsDiscussion