While regulators and lawmakers around the world look at introducing rules on the kind of content that social platforms should remove and how quickly they should do it, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has called for governments to regulate social platforms.
Not far behind Zuckerberg's call for governments to regulate social networks came a UK government consultation into harmful content on social media and government plans to create an independent regulator for social media and enshrine within law a duty of care toward users. The UK government plans to create rules on acceptable content that social networks will have to follow.
It is not only the UK that is attempting to tackle harmful content on social platforms. Australia has passed a law that requires social platforms to remove "abhorrent violent material" accessible in Australia within a reasonable time and, if the violent conduct has occurred in Australia, report it to the Australian Federal Police. Financial penalties are linked to annual turnover with other penalties including prison sentences for relevant executives. This law was rushed through not long before a federal election was called and took place shortly after the Christchurch massacre in New Zealand. Germany too has a law requiring social firms to tackle illegal content. The law means that social platforms must respond to complaints about content and remove content in contravention of existing laws. The EU has plans to force social platforms to remove extremist content.
However, regulation may actually be good for Facebook. By calling on the government to regulate social networks, Zuckerberg can potentially set regulators up as the future scapegoat for the next time some abusive content or political advertising scandal rears its head. After all, if governments have set the rules, Facebook will be able to point at the regulators for creating the rules that allowed the content to be published in the first place.
By calling for regulation at this point, Facebook will put itself into position to help shape coming regulations and, perhaps, persuade regulators to introduce laws that Facebook can comply with but that would prove burdensome to any startup competitors lacking the resources Facebook and other established platforms have.
Openly calling for regulation also looks good to consumers, and Facebook needs to do this. Data from Ovum's Digital Consumer Insights 2018: Communications and Media survey shows that more than 30% of consumers trust Facebook less than they did 12 months ago.
Figure 1: One-third of the Facebook user base trust the platform less now than they did last year
Source: Ovum's Digital Consumer Insights 2018: Communications and Media survey
Social Media Tracker: 2H18, CES001-000046 (March 2019)
Charlotte Palfrey, Senior Analyst, Communications and Social