Facebook wants to beat governments to the punch on regulations and oversight.
Company leaders have been pushing out their message on many fronts, starting with an op-ed from CEO Mark Zuckerberg in The Washington Post outlining proposals for governance of social media companies.
Technology is a major part of our lives, and companies such as Facebook have immense responsibilities. Every day, we make decisions about what speech is harmful, what constitutes political advertising, and how to prevent sophisticated cyberattacks. These are important for keeping our community safe. But if we were starting from scratch, we wouldn’t ask companies to make these judgments alone.
I believe we need a more active role for governments and regulators. 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.
From what I’ve learned, I believe we need new regulation in four areas: harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability.
The social media company has been dogged by scandal and criticism over the 2016 election, Brexit in the U.K., and most recently the livestream of a brutal killing spree in New Zealand. In response, it promises change and welcomes new government rules for social media companies. The move echoes Zuckerberg’s announcement that the company would make a big shift to prioritize user privacy.
In an interview with WIRED last month, Zuckerberg said, “There are some really nuanced questions … about how to regulate, which I think are extremely interesting intellectually.” …
In [The Washington Post op-ed], Zuckerberg acknowledged that he believes his company has too much power when it comes to regulating speech on the internet. He also mentioned Facebook’s new independent oversight board, which will decide on cases where users have appealed the content decisions made by Facebook’s moderators. (On Monday, Facebook announced it was soliciting public feedback about the new process.)
Some are skeptical about Facebook’s commitment to regulation.
By draping his essay in the guise of cooperation, Zuckerberg hopes to distract policymakers from the real threat. Internet platforms like Facebook and Google dominate the public square in every country in which they operate. Their code and algorithms influence our daily lives in ways far more intrusive than democratic governments or the law. No one elected these companies and they refuse to be held accountable. That must change. I welcome Mark Zuckerberg to the conversation, but do not believe he should be allowed to frame the debate.
Others offered kudos.
Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia who has been a vocal critic of tech companies, praised Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s recent call for tech regulation.
“I’m glad to see that Mr. Zuckerberg is finally acknowledging what I’ve been saying for past two years: The era of the social media Wild West is over,” Warner told CNBC in a statement. “Facebook needs to work with Congress to pass effective legislative guardrails, recognizing that the largest platforms, like Facebook, are going to need to be subject to a higher level of regulation in keeping with their enormous power.”
However, Facebook wasn’t done announcing modifications. The company also promised to bring big changes to its News Feed feature, where new posts and advertisements are surfaced for regular users.
We’re introducing “Why am I seeing this post?” to help you better understand and more easily control what you see from friends, Pages and Groups in your News Feed. This is the first time that we’ve built information on how ranking works directly into the app.
We’re also making improvements to “Why am I seeing this ad?” a tool we launched back in 2014. We’ve received valuable feedback over the years that has helped us expand the information we share with people about the ads they see.
This means you’ll be able to tap on posts and ads in News Feed, get context on why they’re appearing, and take action to further personalize what you see.
The company is also adjusting how it provides feedback to users who have questions about the ads in their feeds.
We’re also making updates to “Why am I seeing this ad?”. Since we launched this feature more than four years ago, you’ve been able to see how factors like basic demographic details, interests and website visits contribute to the ads in your News Feed. Now we’ll include additional details about the ads you see when information on an advertiser’s list matches your Facebook profile.
Businesses can reach their customers by uploading information they already have, such as emails or phone numbers. We then try to match the ad to the most relevant audience without revealing any identifiable information back to the business. “Why am I seeing this ad?” will now provide details such as when the advertiser uploaded the information or if the advertiser worked with another marketing partner to run the ad.
Facebook floated possible changes to regulate who would be allowed to livestream on the platform.
Earlier today, the New Zealand Herald published a letter from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, addressing how the company is addressing the deadly terror attack in Christchurch two weeks ago. In the letter, she lays out three steps that the company is taking, including that it’s “exploring restrictions” for live video.
She described the attack as “an act of pure evil,” and that the company is “committed to reviewing what happened,” and that it’s working with the country’s authorities. In the aftermath of the attack, Facebook says that it removed 1.5 million videos of the attack around the world, with 1.2 blocked “at upload.” In her letter, Sandberg says that while Facebook moved quickly to remove the video and the perpetrator’s account, the company could do more, and laid out three steps that it will take. We’ve reached out to Facebook to clarify on the letter, and will update this post if we hear back.
The future of digital news
The changes to News Feed reflect how social media companies are adjusting the way users find news stories and branded content on their platforms. A major shift could be brewing for publishers and content creators on popular social media platforms.
Apple recently announced a new subscription news service, and Facebook is working on an answer to its rival’s offering.
The new section, Zuckerberg said, would be modeled after Facebook’s existing “Watch” tab, a section on the platform that hosts videos and original programming. It would be separate from News Feed which would remain unchanged, meaning users would still be able to share and find news there.
“Because that has started to grow really quickly, and that’s a lot of video that now people use through our services, we’ve decided that there really is an opportunity to do something like that with news as well,” Zuckerberg explained in the discussion with Mathias Döpfner, chief executive of news publisher Axel Springer.
Zuckerberg said he envisioned the news destination as a place “10, 15, maybe 20-percent” of Facebook users would use, giving the company “the ability to dramatically increase” the distribution of high-end journalism. He described it as a place that would be both personalized and curated.
Last week, Apple announced it was launching a $10 per month paid news aggregation service called News+ (it features content from WIRED). But unlike Apple, Facebook doesn’t appear to be getting into the subscription business. “We’re coming to this from a very different perspective than I think some of the other players in the space who view news as a way that they want to maximize their revenue. That’s not necessarily the way that we’re thinking about this,” Zuckerberg said in the interview.
Facebook’s earlier attempts to partner with media organizations have been a mixed bag. The social network also previously explored creating a dedicated feed for publishers but abandoned the project. Without knowing more, it remains to be seen what, if anything, is going be different this time.
A tarnished reputation
Despite the full-court press, Facebook has been unbale to overcome skepticism and distrust over scandals that began with the Cambridge Analytica debacle.
This is a company, after all, that declares a commitment to privacy, while looking the other way when groups like Cambridge Analytica weaponize user data to influence elections. It’s a platform that routinely faces criticism for allowing advertisers to avoid showing property and job ads to Blacks and Latinos. It’s Zuckerberg’s pet project, a twisted experiment that once sought to determine whether it could influence users’ moods based on filling their News Feeds with dark content.
But maybe, just maybe, after years of teetering on the edge, Zuckerberg, Sandberg, and the rest of this rag-tag group of billionaires has realized the error of their ways.
That’s unlikely. A far more believable theory is that Facebook, after taking its share of gut punches over the past few years, is anticipating the knockout blow yet to come.
Viewed as a concerted effort, the modifications paint a picture of a powerful yet troubled company that is trying to change course. Is the barrage sending the right message?
In each case, the message is the same: we’ve done a lot of work already, but there’s not global agreement on how to handle these issues, and it would be better for everyone if there were. Zuckerberg takes the offensive here by asking other companies to act as Facebook has — publishing regular reports on the removal of “harmful content,” for example. He offers concessions, by acknowledging that Facebook currently has “too much power over speech” and calling for privacy legislation modeled on the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation.
… On Saturday, Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, published a blog post indicating the company would consider new restrictions on live broadcasting following the abuse of that tool by the New Zealand shooter. Then, on Sunday evening, Facebook announced a tool by which users can query any post they see in the News Feed about why it’s there. (The hope is that if Facebook can explain why a user is seeing something, it will help to repair the company’s trust deficit.)
Monday brought new pro-regulation interviews with Nick Clegg, Facebook’s new head of policy, in Bloomberg; and Kevin Martin, Facebook’s vice president for public policy in the United States, in Axios. Zuckerberg traveled to Germany, where he sat for an interview with Axel Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner and met with elected officials. (Watch it before a mysterious Facebook bug deletes Zuckerberg’s post!) The company also began to solicit input on the development of its oversight board, which will resolve disputes in content moderation.
Before the incessant media blitz of the modern internet age, companies might expect to be able to bury a news story if they had bigger news to announce at the same time. However, digital news media outlets are capable of covering it all, and organizations shouldn’t be surprised to find detailed play-by-plays of their latest moves making their way around the world.