Why it matters: The last couple of years have not been kind to Facebook’s reputation. Last year it was voted the least trusted tech company, which is unsurprising given the rate of new reports of shady practices by the company. Now, in a Washington Post piece that’s part PR offensive and part cry for help, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is calling on governments worldwide to increase their efforts to regulate tech companies.
Illicit data use by Cambridge Analytica, marketing apps targeting teens, accusations of electoral interference and a purported failure to stop the spread of videos from the recent New Zealand terror attack – any one of these would have been bad enough alone. But for Facebook, these stories have come to light so thick and fast the company hasn’t known how to handle them.
The latest move to combat Facebook’s growing image problem by founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been an op-ed in The Washington Post, making a plea for governmental regulation.
Zuckerberg states, “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, […] while also protecting society from broader harms.” He lists four key areas where he feels greater oversight is needed: harmful content, election integrity, privacy, and data portability.
At first glance, it marks an interesting shift in Facebook’s stance towards regulation. But a closer reading reveals that this op-ed is a carefully constructed PR piece that seems more like passing-the-buck than a genuine call for regulatory alignment.
For example, one area Zuckerberg highlights is ‘harmful content’, and after saying that he agrees that tech companies have “too much power over speech,” Zuckerberg lists things the company is already doing, such as “creating an independent body” and “working with governments on ensuring the effectiveness of content review systems.” The subtext of the article is effectively saying “we’re doing things to fix this – we promise.”
Leaving aside how genuine the call for regulation is, it comes at an interesting time. U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren made headlines in March with calls to break up major tech companies. The U.K. government is also looking into increased regulation of social media.
It will be very interesting to see how governments from around the world react to Zuckerberg’s call to arms, especially as many have called for greater regulation without actually putting forward concrete proposals of what that would entail.