Facebook's 'Please Regulate Us' Tour Heads To France
from the we'll-see-how-that-goes dept
On Friday, Mark Zuckerberg went to France, just in time for the French government to release a vague and broad proposal to regulate social media networks. Similar to Zuckerberg’s pleas to Congress to ramp up its regulation of the company (and because he knows that any pushback on regulations will likely be slammed by the world of Facebook-haters), Zuckerberg tried to embrace the plans.
“It’s going to be hard for us, there are going to be things in there we disagree with, that’s natural,” Zuckerberg said. “But in order for people to trust the internet overall and over time, there needs to be the right regulation put in place.”
He also said that he was “encouraged and optimistic about the regulatory framework that will be put in place.”
What is that regulatory framework? Well, it’s pretty vague. It also has PowerPoint artwork that looks like it was designed decades ago by someone who has no business being anywhere near PowerPoint:
To its credit, the plan does recognize that “freedom of expression” is a key value that needs to be protected, as well as freedom for innovation, but then also says those need to be balanced with a protection from harm. The key issue, as we’ve seen in other such plans is that it creates what people are referring to as a “duty of care” for social media — requiring the company to “protect” users and allows regulators to somehow step in if they feel the company isn’t succeeding (as if that won’t be abused).
The plan also sets up a regulator who will be tasked with overseeing how social media platforms operate. There is also some hand-waving, suggesting that these rules will only apply to platforms of a certain size, which lets them argue that it won’t impact or discourage startups, without recognizing how it might alter the overall market as companies seek to avoid whatever threshold rules put them into the “regulated” category. Also, much of the plan does focus on increasing transparency, which is a good thing, but how that gets worked out in practice is a really big question.
The issue in all of this is the same as we’ve discussed before: Facebook can deal with these rules. It’s not clear if other companies can. In effect, the rules might lock in Facebook and this particular paradigm of centralized, siloed social media as what must exist going forward. And that’s a problem. Also, trusting regulators to handle these issues in a reasonable way should raise some eyebrows. For people who hate Donald Trump, how would you feel if he were in charge of regulating what sort of “duty of care” Facebook had to take concerning allowing or disallowing certain speech? Or if you like Trump, then how would you feel if, say, Hillary Clinton or AOC were in charge of such things?
In short, who the regulator is can have a pretty massive impact here, and there seems to be little in these proposals to consider that. It’s not surprising that Facebook seems resigned to “support” these kinds of proposals. The company is such a target right now that any pushback would probably lead to even worse rules. And, as mentioned, the company is well aware that it can probably weather any such rules, while any potential competitors will probably be hit much harder by them.