Facebook’s Call For Regulation Meets With Scepticism

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg’s call for more regulation of social media firms over the weekend has met with scepticism from lawmakers and industry watchers, some of whom called it an effort to shift attention away from the company’s data scandals.

In an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, Zuckerberg said the company wanted common regulation covering “harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability”, all areas in which Facebook itself faces mounting criticism.

“Lawmakers often tell me we have too much power over speech, and frankly I agree,” he wrote, adding that Facebook was forming an independent body through which users could appeal its decisions about what content it posts and what it removes.

The piece comes two weeks after a gunman live-streamed shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand over Facebook, with the video later being copied 1.5 million times and viewed widely across the internet.

GDPR call

Zuckerberg called not only for rules related to protecting elections, but also the discussion of “divisive political issues” online outside of official campaign periods, and industry-wide standards for how campaigns use data to target voters.

He also called for more countries to adopt regulations similar to the EU’s GDPR data-protection laws, and in general for rules to be standardised globally so that they apply in a similar way in all countries and to all tech firms.

Facebook has said it’s considering introducing restrictions on live-streaming and last week said it would ban white nationalism and separatism from the site.

The company on Friday also began labelling political ads that appear on Facebook in EU countries, indicating who the advertiser is, how much was paid and who is targeted.

“I believe we need a more active role for governments and regulators,” Zuckerberg wrote. “By updating the rules for the internet, we can preserve what’s best about it – the freedom for people to express themselves and for entrepreneurs to build new things – while also protecting society from broader harms.”

Privacy probes

But some industry-watchers said Zuckerberg appeared mainly to be trying to distract attention  from multiple investigations focused on the company.

Zuckerberg is “desperate to have the globe focused on the future rather than the numerous global investigations of (Facebook’s) past wrongdoing,” said Jason Kint, chief executive of online publishing trade association Digital Content Next, on Twitter.

“I still bet the current leadership never has a chance to set the future agenda. They missed their opportunity with many years of obfuscations.”

In addition to other matters Facebook is the subject of probes into how it allowed political consultancy Cambridge Analytica to obtain data on tens of millions of users for targeting political adverts.

It is in talks with the US Federal Trade Commission to settle a privacy investigation related to that leak, which could lead to a record multibillion-dollar fine.

David Cicilline, the chair of the House of Representatives’ antitrust subcommittee, tweeted: “Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t get to make the rules anymore. Facebook is under criminal and civil investigation. It has shown it cannot regulate itself. Does anyone even want his advice?”

Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy in Washington, D.C., said Facebook should provide details of what it would back in a US privacy law.

“We call on Mr. Zuckerberg to publicly lay out what his company will support for a US privacy law, including GDPR and the regulation of digital marketing practices,” he said. “Political advertising online needs strong regulations – not just better disclosure.”

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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