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Facebook's Zuckerberg is making a worrying passel of enemies

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It has come to the point where founder Mark Zuckerberg will have to prove somehow he is not in way over his head.

[HONG KONG] For a business built on growing friendships, Facebook is making an astonishing number of enemies. Revelations by two newspapers that some 50 million of its user profiles were inappropriately harvested add to a growing list of outcries over the social network's practices. It has come to the point where founder Mark Zuckerberg will have to prove somehow he is not in way over his head.

The 33-year old Harvard dropout has encountered doubters every step of the way since starting Facebook in his dorm room and building it into a juggernaut valued at US$540 billion. The hubris accumulated from the achievements is now plain to see. Mr Zuckerberg seems either oblivious to - or incapable of assuming - the responsibilities that come with running an enterprise of extraordinary political, cultural and social influence.

It is evident even in the company's lame response to the latest imbroglio. The New York Times and Observer of London chronicled, with the help of a whistleblower, how political consultancy Cambridge Analytica exploited Facebook user information. Worse, they say Facebook knew about it and failed to alert customers. The tin-eared first lines of defence over such harrowing claims were to argue that what occurred was not technically a "data breach" and to belatedly suspend the firm's account.

Responses from outside Facebook were notably, and deservedly, more severe. US legislators called for investigations into the leaks. Senator Amy Klobuchar demanded Mr Zuckerberg appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on which she sits. A conservative British lawmaker called for him to testify in a parliamentary inquiry over Russian meddling in the UK referendum to leave the European Union. For over a year, Mr Zuckerberg has been ducking such requests even as he embarked on a road trip across America last year to meet people in every state.

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Facebook has abjectly failed to grasp the magnitude of its problems. It took Mr Zuckerberg almost a year to apologise for his blithe 2016 comment that fake news posted across his website didn't influence the US election. In the meantime, there are mounting concerns over its online advertising power, handling of privacy matters and how much tax it pays in Europe. Ten years ago, Mr Zuckerberg hired Sheryl Sandberg to help turn his startup into a serious corporation. It may be time for more adult supervision.

Facebook said on March 18 it was conducting a"comprehensive internal and external review" to determine whether personal data from 50 million user profiles allegedly misused by a political consultant still existed.

The company added that it was trying to determine the accuracy of a joint reporting effort by the New York Times and Observer of London newspapers that a researcher gave the firm, Cambridge Analytica, inappropriately obtained Facebook data starting in 2014. Facebook suspended the accounts of Cambridge Analytica and its parent company Strategic Communication Laboratories from the site on March 16.

REUTERS

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