Facebook's Zuckerberg wants laws to combat harmful content, protect privacy

As the social network is called out for its own practices, Zuck says the internet needs guidance and standard rules.

Edward Moyer Senior Editor
Edward Moyer is a senior editor at CNET and a many-year veteran of the writing and editing world. He enjoys taking sentences apart and putting them back together. He also likes making them from scratch. ¶ For nearly a quarter of a century, he's edited and written stories about various aspects of the technology world, from the US National Security Agency's controversial spying techniques to historic NASA space missions to 3D-printed works of fine art. Before that, he wrote about movies, musicians, artists and subcultures.
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Edward Moyer
3 min read
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg: "Lawmakers often tell me we have too much power over speech, and frankly I agree."

James Martin/CNET

When it comes to regulation, Facebook wants some rules.

That seems to be the gist of an editorial by Mark Zuckerberg published Saturday in The Washington Post. In it, the head of the world's largest social network says firms like his have "immense responsibilities" over issues like protecting user data and managing disinformation and political ads on their platforms. But, he says, the companies need some guidance.

"Lawmakers often tell me we have too much power over speech," Zuckerberg writes, "and frankly I agree. I've come to believe that we shouldn't make so many important decisions about speech on our own."

Later in the piece, he says, "We need a more active role for governments and regulators."

Like Google, YouTube and other tech companies, Facebook has been confronting the specter of government oversight after high-profile scandals involving hate speech, election meddling, leaks of customer data, and other problems.

Zuckerberg has previously said he'd welcome regulation, but only if it's the right kind. In the Saturday op-ed, he gives an idea of the sort of thing he has in mind, and he singles out four areas that need new regulation: harmful content, election integrity,  privacy  and data portability. The common denominator? Industrywide standards and frameworks.

With regard to harmful content, Zuckerberg floats the idea of groups that would establish guidelines and ensure that companies meet them.

"One idea is for third-party bodies to set standards governing the distribution of harmful content and to measure companies against those standards," he writes. "Regulation could set baselines for what's prohibited and require companies to build systems for keeping harmful content to a bare minimum." He also says companies should release quarterly transparency reports on how well they're doing.

Similarly, protecting election integrity calls for guidelines.

"Deciding whether an ad is political isn't always straightforward," Zuckerberg writes. "Our systems would be more effective if regulation created common standards for verifying political actors."

Zuckerberg says current laws about online political advertising fall short because they focus on candidates and campaigns but not on the divisive issues exploited by those wishing to sow discord and interfere in elections. And some laws apply only during elections, he says, and "information campaigns are nonstop."

Zuckerberg writes: "Legislation should be updated to reflect the reality of the threats and set standards for the whole industry."

Effective privacy protections, too, would require a "globally harmonized framework," Zuckerberg says.

"People around the world have called for comprehensive privacy regulation in line with the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation, and I agree," Zuckerberg writes.

"I also believe a common global framework -- rather than regulation that varies significantly by country and state -- will ensure that the Internet does not get fractured, entrepreneurs can build products that serve everyone, and everyone gets the same protections."

Such regulation "should protect your right to choose how your information is used -- while enabling companies to use information for safety purposes and to provide services," Zuckerberg writes. He also says it should set up a method for holding companies accountable through sanctions.

Data portability should get the standards treatment as well, Zuckerberg writes.

"If you share data with one service, you should be able to move it to another," he says. "This gives people choice and enables developers to innovate and compete."

He adds, however, that "this requires clear rules about who's responsible for protecting information when it moves between services."