Facebook needs, wants, must have regulation, Zuckerberg says

Mark Zuckerberg, shown in China in 2016, says regulation will help consumers feel social media platforms are being held accountable.
(Mark Schiefelbein / Associated Press)

For years, Facebook Inc. lobbied governments against imposing tough regulations, warning in some cases that they could harm the company’s business model. Now, it’s pleading for new rules for the good of its business.

In a white paper published Monday, Facebook detailed its push for internet regulation, calling on lawmakers to devise rules around harmful content, a different model for platforms’ legal liability and a “new type of regulator” to oversee enforcement.

“If we don’t create standards that people feel are legitimate, they won’t trust institutions or technology,” Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg said in an op-ed in the Financial Times on Monday. That and the publication of the white paper coincided with a visit to Brussels, home of the European Union institutions that have crafted some of the toughest rules in recent years.


Silicon Valley firms have suffered from what’s been dubbed a “tech lash,” with users frustrated over how web platforms profit from their data. Facebook has borne the brunt of that disenchantment following a series of missteps including privacy breaches and accusations that it didn’t do enough to stop election manipulation on its platform. Meanwhile, Facebook’s user growth is stagnating in the U.S. and Canada – its most important markets.

“I believe good regulation may hurt Facebook’s business in the near term, but it will be better for everyone, including us, over the long term,” Zuckerberg said in the op-ed, echoing comments he made over the weekend at the Munich Security Conference.

In Brussels, Zuckerberg is due to meet with EU tech czar Margrethe Vestager and other senior officials as the bloc prepares new legislation in areas including artificial intelligence, gatekeeping tech platforms and liability for users’ posts, all of which could affect Facebook’s business.

Zuckerberg has previously called for global regulation covering election integrity, harmful content, privacy and data portability.

In the op-ed, Zuckerberg said Facebook was hoping for clarity around what constituted a political ad — especially if paid for by a group not directly affiliated with a political party, such as a nongovernmental organization. Companies also need clearer lines around data ownership to enable users to move their information between services, he said.

In addition, the company would look into opening up its content moderation systems for external audit to help governments design regulation in areas including hate speech, he said.

Any new rules should hold internet companies accountable for having certain procedures in place, and platforms should meet specific performance targets when it comes to handling content that violates their policies, Facebook said in Monday’s white paper. Rules should also define forms of speech that should be prohibited online, even if they’re not illegal, it said.

When it comes to liability for what users post on its platform, Zuckerberg said in a media roundtable in Brussels on Monday that a different regulatory system should be created — somewhere between the rules governing newspaper publishers, who can be sued for what journalists write in their pages, and those for telecommunications companies, which aren’t liable for customer conversations. This legislation may require a new type of regulator proficient in data, operations and online content, the company said.

Zuckerberg reiterated that companies shouldn’t be in charge of making decisions that balance competing social values, and said he hoped that new laws would draw cleaner lines to help companies navigate those decisions — even as regulators in Europe are also investigating Facebook over its compliance with existing privacy and antitrust rules.

“People need to feel that global technology platforms answer to someone,” Zuckerberg said in the op-ed, but he also stressed that the plea wasn’t about “passing off responsibility.” He said that Facebook was continuing to make progress on some of the issues on its own.

The Facebook chief’s Brussels visit follows a January trip by Alphabet Inc. Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai, who came to discuss regulation of artificial intelligence. Alphabet Inc. is the parent company of Google. The EU is expected to unveil planned rules for artificial intelligence technology this week, when it’s also likely to flag proposed liability rules for tech platforms coming later this year.

It’s not a coincidence that the chief executives of tech firms like Facebook and Google are making the pitch for regulation in the EU capital. They have seen before that when the EU sets sweeping laws on tech, like the General Data Protection Regulation, the reverberations can reach far beyond its borders.