Facebook wants Washington’s help in running Facebook

Facebook wants Washington's help in running Facebook

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has a message for Washington: We’re happy to change the way we run Facebook. Just tell us how.

That’s the main conclusion of a statement he will provide to Congress on Thursday, during a hearing on the role of social media in spreading disinformation. But it’s also the mantra Zuckerberg and Facebook have been repeating for years, in targeted messages like Washington Post opinion pieces and paid ads aimed at the Beltway crowd.

And that’s also, more or less, Facebook’s default position when it comes to making all kinds of decisions about running this huge and extremely profitable business: “Yes, we run a business that has generated 84%. billion dollars in revenue last year and currently worth over over $ 800 billion. But we would like someone else to take responsibility for… ”and here you can fill in the blank, as it could range from posting a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo on the site to posting Donald Trump on Facebook .

Now Facebook is in a position where everyone in Washington wants to do… something about Facebook, but what exactly depends on what part of the political spectrum it sits on. Republicans want Facebook to promise to stop censoring Republicans, although there is no evidence that this is actually happening; Democrats want Facebook to promise not to destabilize democracy.

So now Zuckerberg is adding a twist to his standard request for regulation: he tells Congress he should force Facebook – and all other Internet platform operators – to “demonstrate that they have systems in place to. identify illegal content and remove it. ”

Facebook wouldn’t necessarily need to find all of these things and delete the last part of them – Facebook is really big! But it would have to be proven that he spent a lot of time and money on try to do this.

In return, Zuckerberg says, Facebook and everyone else who complies could retain the protections offered by Section 230, a basic law that allows online platforms to host user-uploaded content without taking responsibility for it. this content.

On the one hand, it seems like a fairly straightforward proposition. After all, Facebook and other big platforms like YouTube and Twitter already have systems that allow them to monitor copyright infringements on their property. Why shouldn’t they have systems that do the same for “illegal content”?

(Here it should be noted that in the early days of the platforms their main legal concern was to avoid the copyright claims that brought down Napster; the notion that the platforms could host content that could incite genocide or destabilize democracy wouldn’t gain much for a decade later.)

On the other hand, it is not at all simple. It’s more or less clear when something infringes copyright. But it’s not at all clear what kind of content is “illegal” – and waiting for Congress, which finds no bipartisan agreement on anything, to decide exactly what Facebook should allow on its properties means Facebook will be waiting a very long time. to know these guidelines.

Which you think is fine with Facebook, if you think Facebook just wants to sound like it wants to work with Congress and hope that all the momentum to regulate technology will someday disappear.

A different but equally realistic take: Facebook believes that there is going to be some sort of reform of Article 230, and by opening a path that it deems acceptable, it will have a better chance of achieving this result when ‘it will mean negotiating with legislators and their staff. (Note: Neither Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai nor Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who is also virtually testifying at Thursday’s hearing, asked Congress to change Section 230 at all.)

Critics will also point out that creating these kinds of rules and systems is not as big a problem for Facebook as it is for small internet platform companies. (Remember Washington imposed a $ 5 billion fine and a new set of privacy guidelines on Facebook two years ago, and Facebook moved on, because $ 5 billion is not a lot of money for Facebook.) A new review, the company has a line ready: someone – not Facebook, certainly – should come up with the “definitions of an adequate system,” which “could be commensurate with the size of the platform”.

Let’s be clear: Facebook doesn’t really want the government telling it what to do. He was happy (ish) to make deals to pay Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp for the use of its content in America. In Australia, Facebook hit a slump when it was forced to do the same by regulators there.

But what Facebook wants are legal safeguards and the promise that if it adheres to them, it can run its highly profitable business. Asking Congress to put them in place – even if, or especially if it takes a long time – is a very small price to pay.


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