Mark Zuckerberg To Congress: Okay, Fine, Please Regulate Me And Lock In My Dominant Market Position
from the hey-wait-a-second dept
Let’s get a few things out of the way: Facebook deserves much of the crap it’s gotten over the past few years. Indifference to serious problems, bad management, and worse practices have put it at the receiving end of a ton of bad press.
At the same time, however, the company’s near total inability to do the right things means that when it actually does try to do the right things (like increasing accountability, transparency, and due process in its content moderation practices), people freak out and attack the company. Sometimes people will automatically suspect the worst possible motives. Other times, they’ll completely twist what is being proposed into something else. And sometimes their expectations just aren’t reasonable. (Of course, sometimes people will be correct that Facebook is just fucking things up again.)
It makes sense that the company may be frustrated by the impossible position it finds itself in, where any solution it trots out gets the company attacked, even when it might actually be a good idea. But that does not mean it should just throw in the towel. Yet it’s difficult not to read Mark Zuckerburg’s new op-ed in the Washington Post (possible paywall) as an exasperated throwing up of his hands, as if to say, “fine, fuck it, no one likes what we’re doing, so here, government, you take over.”
Technology is a major part of our lives, and companies such as Facebook have immense responsibilities. Every day, we make decisions about what speech is harmful, what constitutes political advertising, and how to prevent sophisticated cyberattacks. These are important for keeping our community safe. But if we were starting from scratch, we wouldn?t ask companies to make these judgments alone.
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.
It might be one thing if by tossing out ideas like this, Zuckerberg is basically calling the government’s bluff, and saying “if you guys think it’s so easy, tell us what to do.”
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.
After all, it’s an impossible request that the government will fail at just as Facebook does. And maybe if it did, people would understand just how unreasonable it is to expect Facebook to do any better.But rather than being an effort to help the public and regulators see the futility of so many of the pressures they keep foisting on Facebook, most of the op-ed instead seems like a serious invitation for government regulation.
From what I?ve learned, I believe we need new regulation in four areas: harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability.
That said, much of what else Zuckerberg lays out is… disingenuous. Back when Facebook did a huge about face and started supporting FOSTA, a number of startups told me that they fully believed that Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg had decided that (1) it would be costly to comply with FOSTA but (2) that they could handle the expense. Unfortunately the same could not be said for most smaller companies.
Yet here we are again, with Facebook tempting regulation that it thinks it can cope with, regardless of its impact on others.
One idea is for third-party bodies to 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.
Facebook can afford to do this. Startups? Not so much.
People around the world have called for comprehensive privacy regulation in line with the European Union?s General Data Protection Regulation, and I agree. I believe it would be good for the Internet if more countries adopted regulation such as GDPR as a common framework.
New privacy regulation in the United States and around the world should build on the protections GDPR provides. It should protect your right to choose how your information is used ? while enabling companies to use information for safety purposes and to provide services. It shouldn?t require data to be stored locally, which would make it more vulnerable to unwarranted access. And it should establish a way to hold companies such as Facebook accountable by imposing sanctions when we make mistakes.
Again, GDPR has already been incredibly costly to startups — and has had a much bigger impact on them than the giants like Facebook. Yes, it was costly for Facebook to (try to) comply with the GDPR, but it has the money to deal with such things while smaller companies do not.
Zuckerberg knows what’s going on. He knows the narrative in the press and in DC has turned very much against the company. He also knows that regulation is very much coming. Furthermore, he knows that part of the narrative is that “Silicon Valley” doesn’t want to be regulated. And so he’s effectively… er… leaning in on the opportunity to call for regulation. Regulations that he knows Facebook can deal with (and which would somewhat call the bluff of angry Congress critters).
At the time when Facebook made its FOSTA flip-flop, some suspected it was a cynical move designed to give Facebook the dual benefit of positive press coverage for having supported it, while also purposefully ensuring that they’d made life more difficult for all of their potentially disruptive competitors. This op-ed does nothing to quell these suspicions. But even if Facebook is more foolish than disingenuous in calling for more regulation that will inevitably [hurt it too], the reality is the same: it will hurt everyone else even more, and thus essentially lock in Facebook’s dominance, since no one else will be able to deal with what regulation Facebook is now calling for, at best indifferent to its effect.
Last year, after Facebook sold out the community by throwing its weight behind the odious FOSTA, we talked about how Facebook lost recess for the rest of Silicon Valley. All had to suffer because of its bad decisions. Now it’s even worse, as the class terror purposefully is trying to dictate the terms of his own punishment in a way that is certain to punish everyone else too.