Facebook’s Zuckerberg calls EU to lead on tech rules

Major regulation of large internet platforms is needed to help them balance the dilemmas of privacy, competition, free speech and safety, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has said. The founder of the social media giant made the call in an online discussion with European internal market commissioner Thierry Breton, in which he said western countries needed to create a democratic regulatory framework to compete against authoritarian models.

“Basically, the platforms shouldn’t be left to govern themselves,” Zuckerberg said, adding that they needed to be accountable to democratic institutions to make difficult choices how to determine questions such as the limits of free speech and control of data. “As a private company we shouldn’t be making so many important decisions about what content we should allow on our platforms by ourselves,” he said.

The platform has invested in content moderation to avoid a repeat of a string of abuses, like the misinformation campaigns that were accused of influencing the result of the 2016 United States election, and the live streaming of a massacre by a far-right extremist on the platform. It now employs 30,000 people to check content, and uses an algorithm to automatically censor harmful content before it is broadcast.

Since the start of the pandemic the platform debuted a system of flagging questionable posts, and directing users towards reliable sources such as the World Health Organisation.

Zuckerberg said it has also removed “hundreds of thousands” of harmful posts, and has been working with intelligence agencies to detect co-ordinated misinformation campaigns.

“Like COVID-19 or the virus, if something is spreading quickly the ability to get to it quickly limits most of the harm,” he said.

Coronavirus has been the subject of prolific conspiracy theories and deeply-politicised influence campaigns, with both Washington and Beijing blaming the other for the pandemic against a backdrop of tense relations between the US and China.

Zuckerberg said the EU had the opportunity to set the world standard for regulation of internet platforms by using its economic and lawmaking might. “When Europe sets policies they often become the standards around the world. GDPR is a good example of that.”

Companies like Facebook and regulators in the EU had “joint responsibility” to develop regulation that would set a global standard before the models of less democratic powers became embedded.

“There is a model that is coming out of countries like China that tends to have very different values than western countries that are more democratic. I just think that is really dangerous, and I worry about that model spreading.”

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