Zuckerberg uses online op-ed to call for internet regulation

The key policy considerations the Facebook founder has called for are around harmful content, election integrity, privacy, and data portability.
Written by Campbell Kwan, Contributor

Facebook's founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has called for governments and regulators to have a "more active role" in establishing the rules that govern the internet.

In a Washington Post op-ed posted on Saturday, Zuckerberg outlined four areas of policy that required attention from governments and regulators -- harmful content, election integrity, privacy, and data portability. Governments and regulators are already working to contain Facebook's powers, so Zuckerberg has tried to get ahead in providing his views on how regulations should look like.

Addressing the issue of harmful content, Zuckerberg agreed that Facebook should not make free speech decisions on its own and that a third-party standard be created. He did emphasise however, that companies should be allowed to self-regulate themselves in accordance with such standards. 

"Regulation could set baselines for what's prohibited and require companies to build systems for keeping harmful content to a bare minimum," he wrote in the op-ed.

Facebook in April last year created a set of guidelines for its moderators to determine what content was allowable on its platforms. The guidelines allowed white nationalist and separatist content up until last week, before Facebook announced that it had changed its stance on these ideologies and would ban any content supporting them.

Zuckerberg also recommended that companies publish quarterly transparency reports on how effectively they are removing content to improve accountability regarding harmful content, saying that this information is "just as important as financial reporting".

Facebook already releases transparency reports, and it also released other figures, such as those related to the video of the Christchurch terrorist attack that was live-streamed on its platform. The video of the terror attack was viewed around 4,000 times on Facebook and took 29 minutes before it was finally reported. Approximately 300,000 copies of the live-stream were published and over 1.2 million videos were blocked at upload, the social media giant said.

In regards to the second issue of election integrity, Zuckerberg said that "deciding whether an ad is political isn't always straightforward". He also said that online political advertising laws should be updated to deal with how campaigns use data and targeting as they currently focus primarily only on candidates and elections.

Until July, Facebook had few systems in place to monitor inappropriate political advertising practices. The systems were only built up after evidence arose suggesting that Facebook allowed Trump-linked data firm Cambridge Analytica to obtain data on around 50 million of its users to predict how people would vote at the ballot box. According to court filings, Facebook allegedly knew about Cambridge Analytica's data practices months before the scandal was exposed.

Facebook, during that time, also allowed accounts with ties to Russia to purchase $100,000 worth of ads to influence the same elections.

Zuckerberg also called for a common global privacy framework that is in line with the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The GDPR is already enforced onto Facebook, so a common global framework mirroring the GDPR would minimise the amount of privacy rules that the company would have to comply with.

He added that governments needed to create clearer rules around privacy to clarify how it would affect the application of technologies like artificial intelligence.

Zuckerberg's last recommendation, focused on data portability, is that shared data is able to be moved from one service to another. This proposal for users to freely take their information from one network to another, Zuckerberg says, will "create services that people want".

Much like the other policy recommendations Zuckerberg made in the op-ed, he also called for a common standard in regards to data portability, supporting a standard data transfer format and the open source Data Transfer Project.

Shortly after Zuckerberg's op-ed being published, Facebook announced plans to roll out a new feature that provides users with short explanations on why they are seeing the posts they are seeing in their news feeds.

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