The Facebook CEO has doubled down on calls for clear regulation of the internet, following a change of heart just under a year ago – now the social network is signalling that it is keen to lay down rules, but that process will be slower than Facebook is hoping.
On Monday, Mark Zuckerberg wrote a piece in the Financial Times arguing for “good regulation,” on the basis that “clearer rules would be better for everyone.” He continued: “I believe good regulation may hurt Facebook’s business in the near term but it will be better for everyone, including us, over the long term.”
Why it matters: The news follows comments made at the Munich Security Conference, where he outlined a key illustration of the position he now sees his company occupying.
Rejecting that Facebook is like a news publisher, he likened it more to a telco, which isn’t usually held responsible for something harmful said on the phone line.
“I actually think where we should be is somewhere in between,” but stopped short of outlining what that precisely means. The op-ed in the FT hints at a little more clarity.
What he’s suggesting: The piece runs through some of the topics thrown up by the company’s work with the French and New Zealand governments on what a possible regulatory framework could look like. Included are:
- Transparency: Governments struggle to understand how Facebook’s systems work. It is exploring how to open up its content moderation systems for audit.
- Political ads: Though he talks up the ads library as a gesture of transparency, the core issue is that there is no agreed definition of what exactly counts as a political ad. This will be a major topic in forthcoming discussions.
- Openness and portability: privacy laws have overtaken rules on data portability, Zuckerberg suggests, meaning that in order to protect themselves companies have locked down their first party data. Creating rules around this will be crucial to innovation.
- Oversight: “People need to feel that global technology platforms answer to someone,” he writes. Facebook is creating an oversight board so users can appeal content decisions.
A whitepaper with the details: a fuller representation of the company’s position can be found here, authored by Facebook’s VP of content policy, Monika Bickert.
One of its more interesting observations when outlining a set of principles for regulation is that current bodies with oversight for internet companies will most likely need to restructure and reskill: “any regulator in this space will need proficiency in data, operations, and online content.”
The principles are important too:
- Incentives: accountability in content moderation systems and protocols should create incentives so firms balance safety, privacy, and free expression. Companies, therefore, could receive performance targets to reduce hate speech, for instance, on the platform.
- National regulation needs to think about regulatory interoperability across borders.
- Freedom of expression: according to article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
- Technology: regulators must have a good understanding of the capabilities and the limitations of content moderation tech, leaving companies with the latitude to innovate. Ultimately, what some companies will be capable of performing at scale will be impossible for smaller competitors, thereby stifling innovation.
A difference of pace: Zuckerberg’s republic (or kingdom, depending on where you're standing) of Facebook is rubbing up against nation states’ slower pace of change. Though notable examples of proactive regulators such as France and New Zealand, and some overtures from Ofcom exist, Facebook’s global scale and operational speed is at odds with the patchwork of regulatory systems it covers. Facebook wants some of these tough decisions out of its hands, and has this week, sent a signal both to governments and to the markets that it’s willing to move fast and regulate things, partly because it is suggesting initiatives that the company is currently working on. It’s the regulators’ move now.
Sourced from the FT, WSJ, Facebook