Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's latest masterstroke is to shift blame for all the election meddling and harmful content on the internet onto the government, rather than on Facebook. In an op-ed published Saturday in the Washington Post and multiple European papers, Zuckerberg says "we need new regulation in four areas: harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability."
Zuckerberg says that the internet has grown to the point that it needs new rules, and he writes "we need a more active role for governments and regulators." The shift toward welcoming government regulation seems to be an about-face after a year in which multiple news stories — particularly this one in the New York Times in November — depicted a company that saw itself at odds with politicians and desperately trying to protect itself from onerous regulation.
Zuckerberg's editorial also comes just two weeks after a deadly mass shooting in New Zealand that became the latest in a string of persistent problems for Facebook — the suspect in the shooting used a body camera to upload a 17-minute Facebook Live video of the massacre that was widely shared in the hours and days afterward.
Meanwhile, COO Sheryl Sandberg told the New Zealand Herald over the weekend that the company is "exploring restrictions" on who can upload live videos.
Media pundit Dylan Byers says that arguably the responsibility for protecting consumer privacy and arbitrating the type of content that should be banned on the internet should always have lain with Congress, and that now Facebook is simply trying to steer the debate in its own favor. "It's like Bugs Bunny telling Elmer Fudd how to catch him," Byers writes.
Zuckerberg suggests that it should be up to the government, not Facebook, to decide "what counts as terrorist propaganda, hate speech and more." He adds, "We continually review our policies with experts, but at our scale we’ll always make mistakes and decisions that people disagree with." And he writes that he agrees with the idea that Facebook currently has too much power over people's speech.
He further argues that laws around political ads are antiquated, and "Some laws only apply during elections, although information campaigns are nonstop." Zuckerberg suggests that more legislation is needed around political ads, particularly those that focus on "divisive political issues where we’ve seen more attempted interference."
As for privacy concerns, Zuckerberg says there needs to be a single global standard for data privacy protection, likely modeled after the EU's GDPR — under which Facebook and other tech giants are already facing millions in potential fines.
"As lawmakers adopt new privacy regulations," Zuckerberg writes, "I hope they can help answer some of the questions GDPR leaves open. We need clear rules on when information can be used to serve the public interest and how it should apply to new technologies such as artificial intelligence."
Zuckerberg also seems to be trying to skirt accusations of being a monopoly by advocating for data portability, and the notion that people should own their own data.
All told, Zuckerberg is serving the ball firmly into Congress's court, even if some may see this as just another clever manipulation — and a deft PR effort to keep people from hating Facebook more than they already do.
As Facebook's recently hired global policy chief Nick Clegg tells Bloomberg, "Facebook can try and come up with some of the solutions but in the end it’s not for Facebook, it’s not right for a private company to try and sort of regulate itself."
Photo: C Flanigan/Wikimedia 2012