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.

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Comments on “Mark Zuckerberg To Congress: Okay, Fine, Please Regulate Me And Lock In My Dominant Market Position”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Everything that has come from facebook reflects on zuck. That’s exactly why I can’t stand facebook or zuckerberg. The tactics and tests have been malicious against internet users and now exactly what I would expect zuck’s inviting the regulation and throwing it up to government. Exactly what the internet DOES NOT NEED.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"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.

The government will certainly fail at it even more completely than Facebook does because the government isn’t even allowed to do the things Facebook does because of that pesky 1st Amendment.

Facebook bans and censors ‘hate speech’. Were the government to assume responsibility for regulation, it couldn’t do that. Nor could it censor for most bullying, harassment, and hurt feelings, the way Facebook currently does.

And that live-streamed video the New Zealand shooter uploaded that Facebook spent the day killing off? Yeah, that would be protected from censorship if the government was running things.

I’d actually welcome government regulation of these services because it would get rid of a lot of the arbitrary and capricious and suspiciously biased enforcement decisions that are currently made because the government simply wouldn’t have the power to make them.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Regulation could set baselines for what’s prohibited

Any regulation from the government that purports to prohibit speech would have to pass the 1st Amendment hurdle, which is a high bar to clear. Basically, anything that isn’t obscenity or that doesn’t meet the Brandenburg test for inciting imminent lawless action is protected speech and the government would be prohibited from forcing social media companies to censor it.

Anonymous Coward says:

You can’t talk down bad faith

He’s really putting to much faith into these people that once bad things start happening they will see a light and not just double down.

It’s the US Congress. It’s solution to not being right is to keep doubling down tripling down. Frifle driple and kippleling down “again congress we are talking” until it gets the desired result and has no interest in even learning anything about the thing they are talking about.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: You can’t talk down bad faith

"He’s really putting to much faith into these people that once bad things start happening they will see a light and not just double down."

Not really.

If government sees the light and realizes that regulating human behavior is not possible and focus should be on educating the young to properly respond to a free online environment…Zuckerberg wins, because he can keep leveraging his dominant market position.

If government doubles down and regulates the hell out of the online environment, to the point where "freedom of speech" turns into a bad joke from an Orwell novel…Zuckerberg wins, because he has the financial muscle to absorb the extra overheads of filtering and enhanced moderation where his competitors do not. He’ll be all that’s left on the open market.

This same calculation holds true for every major company online. Facebook, Google, etc. Although the market as a whole will be reduced by the second option, they’ll be the only ones left standing.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"Once upon a time (1995), the internet held so much promise…"

It still does.

Only that to an increasing degree the online environment is going deep, leaving the shallow open surface bereft of legitimate alternatives.

We are rapidly moving to a paradigm where the status quo will be an online environment much like that of the 90’s, where government had no real regulatory powers at all and all sorts of shady to disgusting behavior were in the same forums as the fully legitimate dreamers and entrepreneurs.

All just because government is currently learning – again – that beyond a certain line in sand human behavior can’t be regulated by law.

Anonymous Coward says:

Not "just as Facebook does"

After all, it’s an impossible request that the government will fail at just as Facebook does.

If we’re talking about content moderation practices, US governments would have to fail harder. They could not moderate as Facebook does; courts would hold it to be illegal viewpoint discrimination to, say, ban hate groups.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Not "just as Facebook does"

But merely making regulations that apply to Facebook would not throw open the doors to unmoderated content.

It wouldn’t, but the government has no authority to pass regulations that limit speech (excluding stuff like death threats the courts have held unprotected). Facebook could do it on its own, as it is now, but it works against Zuckerberg’s point that companies shouldn’t be making the judgments alone. They have to make them on their own.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Any speech that could potentially be limited on Facebook could also be posted elsewhere.

Why would that matter? Phelps could have protested somewhere other than a funeral, and that wasn’t good enough for the court. It wasn’t a close decision either; 8-1.

Why would the government pass a Facebook-only rule anyway?

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

"Any speech that could potentially be limited on Facebook could also be posted elsewhere. Alex Jones got kicked off Facebook and he still has a platform for his speech in InfoWars."

True, but note that the key here is "government authority". What a private company chooses to allow or not in their privately owned forum and/or network is largely up to that private company.

If government starts writing the rules for how private companies must allow or disallow speech then what we have is suddenly not "moderation" but full-fledged state-imposed censorship and a pending SCOTUS decision featuring bolts of thunder from on high smiting the lawmakers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Not "just as Facebook does&

In practice too. There are limited exceptions such as death threats. "Hate speech" is not one of those exceptions. Courts have consistently upheld First Amendment rights there, with little dissent.

When Mark says "I’ve come to believe that we shouldn’t make so many important decisions about speech on our own", he knows damn well the government can’t make those decisions. It’s "impossible" in a different way than Facebook moderating itself is impossible.

Gary (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Not "just as Facebook does&

So do we as a free and democratic society want the government to censor Facebook? Or tell it that Facebook can’t censor anything?

Because I am hearing both things:
Facebook is mean, it took down my post expressing my love of Adolf Hitler. The Government should prevent that!
Facebook is cruel, I saw a picture of dead people and it was a whole 20 minutes before it was taken down, the Government needs to step up!

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Not "just as Facebook d

"Facebook is mean, it took down my post expressing my love of Adolf Hitler. The Government should prevent that!
Facebook is cruel, I saw a picture of dead people and it was a whole 20 minutes before it was taken down, the Government needs to step up!"

Remove the words "the government" from the equation and we’ll be fine with what’s left. Not comfortable, by any means…but fine.

It remains pretty messed up when people, who willingly go to a private forum for news, encounter news they find disturbing, and immediately go bleating to the government for censorship.

The hate mongers crowing for hitler recognition need to be moderated by other non-government citizens and gainsaid by citizens. Vox Populi, Vox Dei. That’s how a "society" has to work, under democratic rules.

The only caveat and inconsistency is that to be tolerant the one thing a society must clamp down on is institutionalized intolerance.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Not "just as Facebook d

Well, I’ve never advocated for either of those scenarios, nor have I advocated that government should be the one to tell Facebook what they should or should not do. So, nice strawman?

Honestly, I tend to less moderation (but not no moderation) than anything else, or the common sense moderation used in most forums and other platforms that used to be perfectly and acceptable up until the last 5 years or so. Don’t be a jerk or a bully and you’ll be pretty much left alone.

Anonymous Coward says:

"Harmful Speech"

That term is so vague and exploitable it scares the shit out of me to see it used unironically.

Anything outside the norm can and has beem branded "harmful content". Women working outside the home or wearing pants? Harmful to "traditions" and "society". Police brutality? Content harmful to order and respect! Being a cultural sexual minority of any sort? Clearly harmful content that is trying to corrupt others to be like you. Pointing out that the chocolate ration has actually been decreased with the "increase"?

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