Facebook calls for regulation

In February 2020, Facebook issued a white paper calling for stricter regulation of harmful content online and for the creation of new type of regulator that will have “proficiency in data, operations, and online content.

Facebook advocates for a regulatory framework whereby governments, companies and civil society share responsibilities and work together to reduce harmful online content, while safeguarding freedom of expression. 

The white paper outlines four key questions that need to be addressed in this new regulatory framework:

  • How can content regulation best achieve the goal of reducing harmful speech while preserving free expression? 

Facebook suggests that there are three – not mutually exclusive or exhaustive – ways in which regulators can achieve this goal. First, regulators could hold companies accountable for having certain systems and procedures in place to reduce harmful speech while preserving freedom of expression. Second, governments could require companies to hit specific performance targets when it comes to content that violates their policies. Third, regulators could require companies to remove certain content, even if it is not already illegal. 

  • How should regulation enhance the accountability of internet platforms?

The white paper suggests that regulation could set out procedural requirements that would ensure that internet content moderation systems are consultative, transparent and subject to independent oversight. For example, companies could be required to publish their content standards, to allow users to report to the company any content that appears to violate the standards and respond to such reports with a decision. 

  • Should regulation require internet companies to meet certain performance targets?

Facebook argues that one way for companies to be held accountable is to monitor whether internet companies have achieved the targets set with regards to the moderation of content that violates their policies. Companies with unsatisfactory performance reports could be punished with direct penalties (e.g. fines) or other legal consequences. 

  • Should regulation define which “harmful content” should be prohibited on internet platforms?

The white paper considers it necessary for regulators to clearly define what content internet companies should allow on their platforms. The regulator should create a standard that can be enforced practically, with limited context about the speaker and content and should provide flexibility so that platforms can adapt their policies to emerging language trends.

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