Mark Zuckerberg at F8 2018

Mark Zuckerberg wants more regulations on the internet

March 31, 2019Jake DiMare

Today, over at the Washington Post, Mark Zuckerberg shared his ideas for fixing the internet. At a high level, he’s calling for more government involvement in regulating the internet. As he gets into the details, there are a lot of ideas borrowed from the EU, organized around four categories.

I believe we need a more active role for governments and regulators. By updating the rules for the Internet, we can preserve what’s best about it — the freedom for people to express themselves and for entrepreneurs to build new things — while also protecting society from broader harms.

From what I’ve learned, I believe we need new regulation in four areas: harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability.

On the issue of privacy and data portability, Mark and I see eye to eye. While it’s true California has adopted similar statutes as the GDPR, data is a commodity and therefore very much a matter of interstate commerce. The federal government should regulate it, and the abdication of leadership in Washington creates more confusion and uncertainty for the business community.

On the issue of election integrity, I think he falls conveniently short of the real solution. But who could blame him for wanting to preserve the sanctity of political ad revenue?

We’ve got a serious problem in the United States: Our leaders are for sale, and public opinion on politics is a commodity which can be purchased by our enemies, both foreign and domestic. After Citizen’s United, it is no longer a question of a corrupt politician here and a corrupt politician there. The entire system is corrupt. And the public is rapidly losing faith in our institutions.

There is no question we need a fix, and more transparency will help, but I don’t think Mark is thinking big enough on this issue. In a nutshell, until it is no longer legally possible to purchase an election or a favorable policy, this problem will persist.

On the question of content moderation, Mark’s prescription for a better tomorrow runs afoul. It’s not that he and I disagree there’s a problem. It’s also not inaccurate to say I sometimes dream about an internet completely free of hate speech and cockamamie politics holding back progress on the issues of our time. But that’s not how America works.

Lawmakers often tell me we have too much power over speech, and frankly I agree. I’ve come to believe that we shouldn’t make so many important decisions about speech on our own. So we’re creating an independent body so people can appeal our decisions. We’re also working with governments, including French officials, on ensuring the effectiveness of content review systems.

Internet companies should be accountable for enforcing standards on harmful content. It’s impossible to remove all harmful content from the Internet, but when people use dozens of different sharing services — all with their own policies and processes — we need a more standardized approach.

Mark talks about harmful content, which is a distinction without a legal definition to the best of my knowledge. Usually, private citizens and businesses have many such terms and get to decide what they mean. But content is unquestionably speech and in the United States, the government is extremely limited in its ability to get involved in restricting speech.

Facebook, however, has the absolute right to moderate speech on their platform using whatever standards they want. And, with recent changes to their policies, it seems they are moving in a direction I personally like.

We define hate speech as a direct attack on people based on what we call protected characteristics — race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, caste, sex, gender, gender identity, and serious disease or disability. We also provide some protections for immigration status. We define attack as violent or dehumanizing speech, statements of inferiority, or calls for exclusion or segregation. We separate attacks into three tiers of severity, as described below.

By expanding the definition of protected classes to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and caste, Facebook is taking a huge step in the direction of civility and decency. If I’m being honest, I will need to be more careful about the things I say about people on the right on Facebook and how I say them.

For now, Facebook has improved and expanded the scope of options available for providing feedback on user contributed content. Time will tell as to whether their enforcement is effective.

One important area Mark’s article avoided today is the spread of hoaxes and misinformation on matters of public interest via his platform. This is because Facebook continues to punt on this issue. Again, from their community standards:

Reducing the spread of false news on Facebook is a responsibility that we take seriously. We also recognize that this is a challenging and sensitive issue. We want to help people stay informed without stifling productive public discourse. There is also a fine line between false news and satire or opinion. For these reasons, we don’t remove false news from Facebook but instead, significantly reduce its distribution by showing it lower in the News Feed.

Ironic that it starts with the fact that they take it seriously, but then go on to say they won’t stop it. It’s difficult to put a finger on the exact moment that facts became unknowable and therefore impossible to preserve, but I do know lies in the media existed well before Facebook, the internet, television, or even the radio.

What’s different today is that it is entirely possible for an interactive news source to evaluate the verity of any fact claim and then label it accordingly or even censor the most damaging misinformation.

To my thinking, until Facebook, Twitter, and other online media outlets are ready to wrestle with lies and the lying liars that tell them, there’s still work to do.

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