Facebook says it supports digital safety law goals

Head of global policy management warns of trade-offs in focusing on taking down content

Facebook’s head of global policy management and counterterrorism Monika Bickert pictured at the IIEA. Photograph : Lorcan Mullally, IIEA

Facebook’s head of global policy management and counterterrorism Monika Bickert pictured at the IIEA. Photograph : Lorcan Mullally, IIEA

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Facebook has said it supports “the overall goals” of the proposed digital safety law, which aims to make tech companies responsible for combating harmful web activity under a system governed by a new online safety commissioner.

However, speaking after an event held at the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA) in Dublin on Tuesday, Monika Bickert, Facebook’s head of global policy management and counterterrorism, warned that forcing the company to focus on taking down content in one area could hamper its efforts to remove other types of content.

Minister for Communications Richard Bruton last month unveiled proposed leigslation that could lead to significant fines for companies who breach digital safety laws that may be linked to turnover.

Ms Bickert said Facebook “was keen to be involved in the process of better regulating online content to show what some of the likely trade-offs would be.”

“We want to make sure when we’re building a solution for detecting violations that we are also being mindful of the privacy implications,” she said by way of an example.

Under the proposed digital safety law rules, tech companies would be required to facilitate complaint mechanisms and build software that can identify harmful content. The proposed regulations would be supported by an escalating range of sanctions from compliance warnings to financial penalties, as well as directing a company to take certain actions or even blocking their services.

White paper

Ms Bickert was speaking the day after Facebook published a new white paper on how to better regulate online content. The document has been poorly received with EU industry commissioner Thierry Breton telling company founder Mark Zuckerberg on Monday that the proposed rules were insufficient.

Mr Breton said it was Facebook that needs to adapt to Europe’s standards, rather than the other way round, according to Reuters. He is expected to announce proposals on Wednesday aimed at challenging the dominance of internet companies.

Speaking about the lukewarm reception to the company’s white paper, Ms Bickert said Facebook “had been very clear that it wants to be part of the conversation that will bring about regulation”.

“We’ve heard loudly and clearly from governments and people who use our services that they want to understand and know that we are being responsible in the way we construct our content policies and enforce them,” she said.

“The white paper was an attempt to move the conversation forward and we think it is doing that,” Ms Bickert added.