Published on April 2nd, 2019 | by Amber Healy


Zuck: Facebook needs government oversight

It wasn’t an April Fool’s joke: Mark Zuckerberg claims to
want more government oversight and regulation of platforms like Facebook.

In an op-ed published Saturday in the Washington Post, the man behind the like button said it’s time to consider ways to make social media platforms, and the internet in general, a better place.

Specifically, he calls for “new regulation in four areas:
harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability.” Focusing on
these areas will help preserve what he feels is best about the internet: “The freedom
for people to express themselves and for entrepreneurs to build new things.”

Just days after saying white supremacists groups will be banned
from Facebook, Zuckerberg begins his column by say there’s a responsibility
tech companies have to help keep people safe. “That means deciding what counts
as terrorist propaganda, hate speech and more. We continually review our
policies with experts, but at our scale we’ll always make mistakes and
decisions that people disagree with.”

To address that, Facebook is creating an independent body,
he says, that will allow people or groups that have been flagged as hateful or
in violation of the platform’s policies to appeal those decisions. His company
also is working with government officials to ensure the content review system
is effective and equitable.

There should be some eyebrows raised about Facebook
developing its own independent body for review. What kind of influence will it
have over the members of this review board? Who will select or vote down the
people on it? If this independent body decides that Facebook isn’t doing enough
to protect people, or is going too far on the side of censorship, will it be
disbanded? We’ll have to wait and see.

Overall, Zuckerberg said third-party bodies should “set
standards governing the distribution of harmful content and to measure
companies against those standards. Regulation could set baselines for what’s
prohibited and require companies to build systems for keeping harmful content
to a bare minimum,” adding that a company of Facebook’s scale cannot possibly
find every last darkened corner and eradicate awful people advocating harm.

Secondly, Facebook has built a searchable archive for
political ads, indicating who paid for an ad, what other ads the same funders
have supported and the audience that saw the ad. There are, of course, grey
areas when it comes to deciding what constitutes a political ad; “Our systems
would be more effective if regulation created common standards for verifying
political actors.”

Here’s another area in which eyebrows should go up:
Remember, one person’s lobbyist is another’s activist. One person’s special
interest group is another’s opposition.

In his third point, Zuckerberg calls for the adoption of
privacy regulations similar to the European Union’s General Data Protection
Regulation, saying privacy protections should allow people to “protect your
right to choose how your information is used – while enabling companies to use
information for safety purposes and to provide services.” He also wants this
bolstering of privacy protections to “establish a way to hold companies such as
Facebook accountable by imposing sanctions when we make mistakes.”

It sounds like Zuckerberg wants his cake and to eat it too:
Which information would be anonymized and which would be used for direct,
targeted advertising? What constitutes a “service” in this use and what would
be considered off limits?  And as for
those sanctions, when a company as big, powerful and influential as Facebook
makes a mistake, who’s going to hold it accountable for its actions, when the
U.S. government hasn’t been able to do so? Lobbyists for the tech giant sure do
hold a lot of sway; how would this regulation change that?

Finally, Zuck wants to make it as easy for data to be moved
around as it is simple to sign into an app via Facebook. “True data portability
should look more like the way people use our platform to sign into an app than
the existing ways you can download an archive of your information. But this
requires clear rules about who’s responsible for protecting information when it
moves between services.”

Once again, who’s doing the deciding here, and what would be
the repercussions for using data in a way other than how it was intended? Who’s
policing the watchdogs?

Zuckerberg, for all his many faults and shortcomings, has a solid point, but he’s also a bit shortsighted, says Carys Afoko, executive director and co-founder of the feminist community Level Up, in the Guardian.

She applauds him for asking for help in making his community
a better, safer and more ethically minded place, but “one of the big challenges
facing governments around the world is not whether to regulate social media
companies such as Facebook, but how to. If you’re like me and the internet has
given you the attention span of a four-year-old child, you’re already bored.
But ultimately no regulation of tech giants will work unless users are
involved. And that’s why we have to engage in this debate.”

Afoko calls out Facebook’s slow response to the Christchurch shooter’s livestreaming of the massacre of 50 people in two mosques just a few weeks ago, or the ability of young people to broadcast self-harm to followers, in addition to the theft of private information through companies like Cambridge Analytica, a Facebook ally for a time.

“The internet at its best connects and empowers; it is worth fighting for. But the way companies operate has not been under enough scrutiny until recently,” she writes. “Facebook has committed to creating an independent body to review its moderation decisions, nicknamed the Facebook supreme court. If it is to function properly, the court of public opinion will be equally important in holding social media giants to account.”

Want more thoughts on this? Try here, here and here for starters.

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I write about music policy and lawsuits because they're endlessly fascinating.

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