WASHINGTON - Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg on Saturday called for governments to play a “more active role” in regulating the internet, and urged more countries to adopt versions of sweeping European rules aimed at safeguarding user privacy.
Facebook and other internet giants have long resisted government intervention, but the leading social network has reversed course amid growing calls for regulation, in an apparent bid to help steer the debate.
“I believe we need a more active role for governments and regulators,” Zuckerberg wrote in an opinion piece published in The Washington Post.
“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,” he said.
Zuckerberg argues that new regulations are needed in four areas: harmful content, protection of elections, privacy and data portability.
Facebook has drawn fire over all four, from hate speech on the platform and the recent live streaming of attacks on mosques in New Zealand, to its use in foreign efforts to meddle in elections and concerns over its collection of personal user data.
Addressing protection of user privacy, Zuckerberg said he would support more countries adopting rules in line with the European Union’s sweeping General Data Protection Regulation, which gives regulators sweeping powers to sanction organizations that fail to adhere to heightened standards of security when processing personal data.
“I believe it would be good for the internet if more countries adopted regulation such as GDPR as a common framework,” Zuckerberg wrote, also calling for regulation to guarantee data portability between services.
Facebook built a content-scanning system that over the years has added rules based on reactions to changes in user behavior or public uproar after an event such as the New Zealand mass shooting. A week ago, the company moved to ban content that references white nationalism or white separatism.
When users or computer systems report posts as problematic, those are sent to one of the company’s 15,000 content moderators around the world, who are allowed to take content down only if it violates a rule.
But that process is not always precise. “Lawmakers often tell me we have too much power over speech, and frankly I agree,” Zuckerberg wrote. ‘I’ve come to believe that we shouldn’t make so many important decisions about speech on our own.”
He said “third-party bodies” could set standards on distribution of harmful material and “measure companies against those standards.”
And on elections, Zuckerberg noted that existing laws are focused on candidates and elections instead of “divisive political issues where we’ve seen more attempted interference,” urging legislation to be updated to “reflect the reality of the threats.”
“The rules governing the internet allowed a generation of entrepreneurs to build services that changed the world and created a lot of value in people’s lives,” Zuckerberg wrote.
“It’s time to update these rules to define clear responsibilities for people, companies and governments going forward.”