Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of social media tech giant Facebook, has called for governments to create new rules for the internet in a recently published op-ed for the Washington Post.
He has pushed for ‘a more active role for governments and regulators’ in assisting tech companies in the preservation and refinement of online freedom and safety, ultimately ensuring ‘the freedom for people to express themselves… while also protecting society from broader harms’.
The discourse on this issue has been inflamed in recent months. For example, Zuckerberg made an appearance at the US Congress in April 2018 to discuss his company’s involvement in the data sharing scandal involving Cambridge Analytica and Russian interference with the 2016 US election.
More recently, UK MPs made significant comments that Facebook’s leader has failed to show ‘leadership or responsibility’ over fake news spread over the platform and the misuse of personal data, issues they contend continue to risk the sanctity of democracy.
Problems with the platform’s capabilities were laid bare when the New Zealand mosque gunman was able to livestream his actions using the platform.
In light of these issues Zuckerberg has released this op-ed, in which he puts forward genuine solutions to various publicised problems. He discusses in turn four main areas that require tougher regulation for the betterment of online users: harmful content, election integrity, privacy, and data portability.
1) Looking at harmful content, he explains how Facebook is required to make huge numbers of decisions in deciding what kind of content should be permitted on the site and what should not (terrorist propaganda, hate speech etc.). In light of the difficulty it faces in this regard, he highlights methods by which the situation may be improved. His suggestions include how Facebook is setting up its own independent body to deal with appeals from removals of content, how the company is working with the French government to assess its content review systems, and how an overall standardised approach for all online sharing services is required for assessing and removing harmful content.
2) In terms of election integrity, Zuckerberg notes how Facebook has strived to improve the information surrounding political adverts, including how they have built a searchable device to provide details on who pays for political ads and the demographic that sees particular political ads. However, he believes stronger legislation is required to set common standards for verifying political actors, and to ensure that more laws surrounding political adverts apply continuously, not just within official campaign periods.
3) Online privacy and data protection is currently a huge issue that affects people and companies the world over, so Zuckerberg believes it is right to have global harmonisation in the approach to ensuring their data is protected in the online sphere. He therefore supports a framework akin to the EU’s GDPR, enabling, amongst other things, online users to choose how their information is used, and providing a means by which to hold companies accountable for their mistakes, for example in instances of data breaches.
4) In the same vein, Zuckerberg believes that data portability, or the moving of people’s data from one service to another, is a crucial aspect of the internet, largely for creating services that people want. But he questions the fact that there are no clear rules about who is responsible for protecting such data when it is moved, requiring standardised data transfer mechanisms for all online companies.
He continues his recognition of the harm that his platform has caused, and does not shy away from recognising the role that tech giants have to play in ensuring the online sphere is not compromised further. A clear theme permeating his essay is that of cooperation and a common set of frameworks to tackle the present issues, and it will certainly be important to receive the input of the tech companies themselves in ensuring these ideals come to fruition.
However, there is a slight air of shifting the blame away from the company to the lack of action on behalf of the world’s governments. Government regulation of the internet is no easy task – we need only look at the backlash that surrounded the passing of the recent controversial Article 13 of the EU Copyright Directive. It must be asked if governments can and should be heavily involved with the regulation of the internet, or if it should largely be the responsibility of the companies themselves to ensure they are protecting the users, in addition to laying some responsibility on the users themselves with regards surveying and reporting of relevant issues they encounter.
But perhaps this idea of self-regulation is wishful thinking. US Senator Elizabeth Warren recently outlined a desire to break up these corporate giants into more manageable chunks because she does not believe that these companies, as they stand, are capable of being regulated or regulating themselves effectively.
What the future holds for the internet remains to be seen, but if the governments and tech giants of the world do manage to collect themselves and create a global framework of online regulation it is undoubtable that online users will experience significant changes to their use of the internet. The end goal, of course, is that its harmful effects are ever-more outweighed by the positive impacts it can have on business, culture, and society as a whole, and such present recognition from one of the world’s leading online companies that change needs to happen is hopefully a step in the right direction.