In an op-ed for The Washington Post, Zuckerberg wrote that governments and regulatory bodies need to be more active in policing content on social media platforms.

By Daniel Herborn


Posted on April 1, 2019

In the piece, Zuckerberg wrote that external regulation was needed in four areas:

  • harmful content
  • election integrity
  • privacy
  • data portability

Facebook had been slammed for its slow response to removing Christchurch footage

“Lawmakers often tell me we have too much power over speech, and frankly I agree,” Zuckerberg wrote. He also said Facebook was in the process of “creating an independent body so people can appeal our decisions” about what content is removed. In November 2018, Facebook committed to implementing a court-like body to adjudicate on content disputes.

Zuckerberg’s comments come in the wake of the Christchurch terror attack, which saw Facebook heavily criticised for not removing footage of the shooting more quickly. Facebook reported that it removed some 1.5 million copies of the massacre footage, with 1.2 million of them being automatically removed at upload.

The Facebook CEO believes that a more standardised approach to removing hate speech and terrorist material from the internet is needed. Clarity from regulators on what constitutes harmful content that needs to be removed could “set a baseline” for what is prohibited and help content platforms to “build systems for keeping harmful content to a bare minimum,” Zuckerberg wrote.

Australian lawmakers have already proposed new legislation that could see executives of social media companies jailed and or fined billions of dollars if they do not remove extremist content from their platforms. The proposed laws, especially the penalties set with reference to the global annual turnover of the company, has been criticised as “potentially unconstitutional” and “problematic” by the President of the Law Council of Australia.

Zuckerberg on Facebook privacy reform

The article also saw Zuckerberg advocate for broader application of the General Data Protection Regulation, which was implemented in Europe last May. Under those rules, companies such as Facebook can be fined up to 4% of their global revenue.

Facebook has been subject to greater scrutiny in the past two years for privacy breaches, its enabling of fake news and political interference and for providing a platform for hate speech and abuse.

Tim Bajarin, President of market research firm Creative Strategies, said the Facebook CEO and his colleagues were now “beginning to realise the wild, wild West of the Internet of the past, those days are gone,” and that social media sites would now be scrutinised more closely by government regulators.

The social media giant had already signalled a move towards private content sharing

In a blog post dated 7 March, Zuckerberg vowed to shift the focus of Facebook away from sharing content with the public or a user’s friend list towards more private communications, such as messaging through the encrypted WhatsApp messaging service, which Facebook owns.

He also anticipated there would be more focus on ephemeral communications such as Facebook stories and less on the permanent sharing of content.

A major roadblock to Zuckerberg’s plans to bolster privacy on Facebook is its goal of refusing to store sensitive data “in countries with weak records on human rights like privacy and freedom of expression”. Russia is one of the countries demanding that social media platforms store user data locally, to facilitate interception by law enforcement bodies.

Zuckerberg has vowed to push on towards this goal, even if it means Facebook getting banned in certain countries.

Zuckerberg says Facebook is taking a stand against political interference

In his Washington Post op-ed, Zuckerberg also said that Facebook had moved towards greater transparency around who pays for political advertising on the platform. It has introduced a searchable archive that shows who purchases ads, along with what other ads they purchased and what audiences were targeted by the ads.

“However, deciding whether an ad is political isn’t always straightforward,” he wrote. “Our systems would be more effective if regulation created common standards for verifying political actors.

Richard Allan, Facebook’s Vice-President of Global Policy Solutions, conceded the changes would not completely prevent abuse of the system for political ends. “We’re up against smart, creative and well-funded adversaries who change their tactics as we spot abuse,” he said. “But we believe (the changes) will help prevent future interference in elections on Facebook.” he added.

A report produced for the US Senate Intelligence Committee found that Russian actors had used the platform to wage an extensive and sophisticated influence campaign during the 2016 US presidential election and were still active on social media.

“The most prolific IRA efforts on Facebook and Instagram specifically targeted Black American communities and appear to have been focused on developing Black audiences and recruiting Black Americans as assets,” the report said.