In an op-ed Saturday in the Irish Independent and the Washington Post, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg asked governments to play a more active role in regulating the Internet. He proposed European-style privacy rules for the U.S. and asked regulators to set clearer rules on “harmful content, election integrity, privacy, and data portability.”
- Would the costs of proposed social media regulations, such as privacy rules, be easier for larger companies like Facebook to bear but create higher barriers of entry for smaller competitors?
- Should Facebook do more to fix its internal problems before asking for help from government officials and politicians? Would government regulation in effect provide Facebook with a way to avoid accountability for its actions by claiming they are just following the government’s rules?
- Over the past ten years, Facebook has acquired Instagram and WhatsApp and dominates social networking. Recently the company announced plans to integrate the messaging services it owns. Has the company, with its 2.7 billion users, become too powerful? Is it a monopoly and should regulators consider breaking Facebook up?
- Facebook’s top policy executive, Kevin Martin, told Axios that “drastic regulatory actions, such as splitting Facebook apart, won’t solve issues around privacy and the spread of harmful content.”
- The call to regulate content alarmed conservatives concerned about government censorship. However, Kevin Martin says in the U.S., what Zuckerberg is “trying to do is have some kind of greater industry standards bodies, to be able to both harmonize the approach of the different companies to similar sets of issues, and also to make sure that consumers are able to be better informed by the consistency across the board.”
- A breakup of large tech companies is being championed by presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren and some progressives, but the idea hasn’t caught on widely. Still, global policymakers are increasingly recognizing the need for more regulation of online platforms, particularly around data collection and the spread of malicious content.
In his op-ed, Mr. Zuckerberg makes the case that intervention is vital to protect both the welfare of users and the fundamental values of an open Internet. He said every day Facebook makes “decisions about what speech is harmful, what constitutes political advertising, and how to prevent sophisticated cyberattacks,” calling the work necessary. “But if we were starting from scratch, we wouldn’t ask companies to make these judgments alone. ‘People shouldn’t have to rely on individual companies’ to address issues such as privacy and hate speech. This kind of rhetoric could play well with politicians who like to claim they are controlling unpopular businesses and may be a way to stave off calls to break up the company.
This invitation was also published on Facebook and follows two difficult years in which the company has been blamed by legislators and regulators for failing to protect foreign interference in U.S. elections, failing to safeguard its users’ data, and failing to suppress hate speech, misinformation, and other forms of harmful content on its platform. Many at Facebook expect lawmakers and regulators to act to contain it and Zuckerberg is trying to set the terms of future regulations by proposing his own rules.
Aligned with the problems experienced by Facebook, these are the four key areas of regulation identified by Zuckerberg:
Harmful content– overarching rules and benchmarks for measuring social apps. Harmful content is the most difficult issue facing Facebook with its more than 2.7 billion users as evidenced by the recent live-streamed shootings at two mosques in New Zealand.
Election Integrity– clear governmental definitions of what constitutes a political or issue ad. After evidence showed foreign actors purchased Facebook ads to sway the 2016 presidential election in the United States, the company has had to quickly build systems that monitor and control the types of ads allowed on its network.
Privacy– General Data Protection Regulation-style regulations globally that can impose sanctions on violations. People around the world have called for comprehensive privacy regulation in line with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, and Zuckerberg believes it would be good for the internet if more countries adopted regulation such as GDPR as a common framework.
Data portability– Ability for users to share their data between apps.This proposal is the most self-serving as it speaks of openness and choice, while it is essentially a way for Facebook to argue it doesn’t have a monopoly on social networking. Despite claims that users can take their information from one network to the next, the reality is that Facebook already owns the majority of world’s social networking companies – Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp. Zuckerberg has already announced plans to integrate the messaging services he owns, further tightening the networks of users across all of his services. The tightening of the networks could make it more difficult for lawmakers to break up Mr. Zuckerberg’s company, something he has fought.