Facebook inquiries underline need for regulation of social media

Accountability required, and not on self-serving Zuckerberg’s terms

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in Dublin on April 2nd. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in Dublin on April 2nd. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg breezed through Dublin on Tuesday, pressing the point for regulation of the internet in a bid to deal with harmful content online.

It mirrored the content of an op-ed published last week in the Washington Post, where he called for regulation in four areas: harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability.

This is part of a broad global effort by Facebook to recast the debate on its own terms, having been under intense pressure for the past few years. It is also designed to head off calls to break up the global media giant, including from the influential Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has designs on the White House.

There are many opposed to Zuckerberg’s plans to merge Facebook’s Messenger service with those of WhatsApp and Instagram.

This significant pivot by Zuckerberg is entirely self-serving, as it seeks to absolve itself of responsibility for what takes place on its own platform.

Facebook would continue to exercise huge control in the market while start-up rivals could find it difficult to operate under the weight of any new regulation.

Zuckerberg had a carefully-choreographed schedule for his brief visit here, meeting a trio of politicians from the Oireachtas communications committee, and holding a largely off-record briefing with reporters, and a one-to-one broadcast interview with RTÉ.

Alas, he wasn’t able to meet with Helen Dixon, head of the Data Protection Commission and de facto regulator for Facebook’s European operations since the passage last year of new EU-wide privacy rules, the General Data Protection Regulation, better known to us as GDPR.

Dixon was in Washington, DC, for meetings of her own. It is worth remembering that the DPC has 10 inquiries currently under way into Facebook and its WhatsApp and Instagram units. It’s a reminder of the need for regulation. Just not on Facebook’s terms.

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