Facebook’s vision for future regulation criticised by EU officials

18 Feb 2020

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Facebook has published a white paper putting forward regulations it would be happy with, but EU officials remain sceptical.

Facebook said it wants to work with governments on “new rules for the internet”, as the social network published a set of recommendations for online content regulation. The social network has been at the centre of a debate about how internet firms should be made more accountable for the content that appears on their platforms.

Last week, the UK government published early proposals for new online harms regulation, including placing broadcasting regulator Ofcom in charge of holding internet companies to account should they fail to uphold a duty of care to users.

Facebook has now published its own recommendations for future regulation, which suggest placing more accountability on companies to do content moderation, which it argues will be a strong incentive for firms to be more responsible.

Sharing the company’s guidelines on Twitter, Facebook’s head of global affairs and communications, Nick Clegg, said: “Facebook wants to work with policymakers to create new rules for the internet.

“We published a white paper that offers five principles that could frame content regulation, especially outside the US, that keeps the internet safe and protects free expression.”

‘Respect the global scale of the internet’

The guidelines suggest regulations should “respect the global scale of the internet and the value of cross-border communications”, and encourage coordination between different international national regulators, as well as look to protect freedom of expression.

In terms of enforcing new rules, it also calls on regulators to develop an understanding of technology which still allows technology firms to innovate rather than issuing blanket bans on certain processes or tools, and asks regulators to take into account the “severity and prevalence” of harmful content in question, its status in law and efforts already underway to address the content.

Writing in the Financial Times this week, Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg said the company supported the need for new online regulation even if it damaged Facebook financially.

“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,” he said.

“These are problems that need to be fixed and that affect our industry as a whole. If we don’t create standards that people feel are legitimate, they won’t trust institutions or technology.

“To be clear, this isn’t about passing off responsibility. Facebook is not waiting for regulation; we’re continuing to make progress on these issues ourselves.

“But I believe clearer rules would be better for everyone. The internet is a powerful force for social and economic empowerment. Regulation that protects people and supports innovation can ensure it stays that way.”

Potential EU push-back

The social network said it wanted its recommendations to spark further debate about the issue of online regulation, and confirmed it planned to publish more papers on the subject of elections and privacy later this year.

“If designed well, new frameworks for regulating harmful content can contribute to the internet’s continued success by articulating clear ways for government, companies and civil society to share responsibilities and work together,” Facebook’s vice-president of content policy, Monika Bickert, said.

“Designed poorly, these efforts risk unintended consequences that might make people less safe online, stifle expression and slow innovation.”

However, the EU’s industry commissioner, Thierry Breton, warned Facebook that the international body was not going to be dictated to by tech giants and a decision on whether to adopt tough regulations will come by the end of the year.

“It’s not for us to adapt to this company, it’s for this company to adapt to us,” Breton said.

He also pushed back on Facebook’s white paper authored by Bickert, saying that looser regulations are “not enough” for effective content moderation.

The EU’s chief justice, Vera Jourova, was also critical of Facebook, saying it “cannot push away all responsibility” and that “it will not be up to governments or regulators to ensure that Facebook wants to be a force of good or bad”.

– PA Media, with additional reporting from Colm Gorey