Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg shares plan for governing content and talks regulation

Facebook would become transparent about their rationale as well as policy changes, Zuckerberg said.

Facebook Inc chairman and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday defended his response to Russian election meddling on the world’s largest social media network and issued a new plan aimed at stifling misbehaviour while maintaining a vibrant hub for online speech.

His comments in a conference call with journalists and in a Facebook post followed a New York Times report on Wednesday that contended that he and other executives tried to deflect criticism internally and in Congress about Russian propaganda spreading through Facebook during the last three years.

Zuckerberg drafted an article titled Blueprint for content governance and enforcement, which is the second in a series of articles which Zuckerberg will be writing about. The series will focus on the challenges Facebook faces and the progress it has made. The first in these series of articles was Preparing for Elections, which was published in September.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing regarding the company's use and protection of user data on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 11, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis - RC1B8AF06ED0

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing regarding the company's use and protection of user data on Capitol Hill in Washington, US. Image: Reuters

Zuckerberg spoke about how the massive social network had shown him the good and bad parts of humanity and he was faced with the challenge of balancing things. "What should be the limits to what people can express? What content should be distributed and what should be blocked? Who should decide these policies and make enforcement decisions? Who should hold those people accountable?" wrote Zuckerberg saying that his job would be to ensure there is less misuse of the platform, as it would be naive to expect the network to be completely free of malicious elements.

Many US lawmakers said after the NYT report that the government must regulate or investigate Facebook, which has become a daily source of information for more than 2 billion people globally.

Zuckerberg said on Thursday that he has acted swiftly to combat the Russian challenge and supports regulation that would encourage companies to reduce the prevalence of “harmful content.”

He announced several self-regulatory measures, including rough plans to create an independent body by the end of 2019 to review appeals from users who contend their content was wrongly banned. Users also would get a new choice on whether they want to view “borderline content” in their news feeds, he said.

"In the next year, we're planning to create a new way for people to appeal content decisions to an independent body, whose decisions would be transparent and binding. The purpose of this body would be to uphold the principle of giving people a voice while also recognising the reality of keeping people safe," said Zuckerberg. He went on to justify using an independent body by stating that it would create accountability and oversight and provide assurance to users that decisions were made keeping in mind the wellbeing of the community rather than profits for Facebook.

“I’ve increasingly come to believe that Facebook should not make so many important decisions about free expression and safety on our own,” Zuckerberg wrote.

Facebook shares fell 0.3 percent on Thursday, plus an additional 0.3 percent after hours.

Increased regulation is among the biggest threats to Facebook, along with increasing user unease about the service being a safe and secure place to converse, according to financial analysts.

Company profit margins have narrowed in recent quarters as it executes Zuckerberg’s initial plan to combat misbehaviour: spending aggressively on people and technology to bolster monitoring.

New Plan, New Data

Facebook’s appeals process would expand to enable people who complain about content to seek second opinions if it is not removed initially. In addition, Facebook would become transparent about their rationale as well as policy changes, he said.

A Facebook sign is seen during a conference. Image: Reuters

A Facebook sign is seen during a conference. Image: Reuters

His announcement came as part of an update on Facebook’s Transparency Report, which discloses how the company deals with inappropriate content and requests for user data by governments.

For the first time, Facebook on Thursday revealed data on bullying and harassment content, saying it had identified about 2.1 million such posts on its service between April and September, with about 15 percent found proactively before user complaints.

Other notable updates included sharp rises during the first half of this year in censorship demands from Russian and Pakistan authorities and user data requests from Indian authorities, according to Facebook’s statistics.

Facebook has been under for fire for the last two years for its self-admitted sluggishness in developing tools to combat extremist content and propaganda operations.

US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump by undermining Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Russia has denied any meddling in the election.

Western countries issued coordinated denunciations of Russia last month for running what they described as a global hacking campaign, which Russia has also denied.

The New York Times report, which revealed Facebook’s use of a public relations firm to attack critics and rivals, prompted fresh criticism.

US Senator Amy Klobuchar said she will ask the Justice Department to look into whether the PR firm engaged in undisclosed political activity as lawmakers weighed new rules on Facebook.

Facebook stopped working with the firm Wednesday when Zuckerberg said he became aware of it.

Scott Stringer, head of New York City Pension Funds, which holds Facebook shares, renewed a call for an independent board chair to replace Zuckerberg.

Facebook’s board in a statement on Thursday credited Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg for making considerable progress fighting misuse of the social network.

On the aspect of regulation

Zuckerberg touched upon the importance of having the right kind of regulations in place as well so that content respected local laws.

A European Union flags flutters outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium June 20, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman - RC17F45764C0

A European Union flags flutters outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium June 20, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman - RC17F45764C0

"Without clear definitions, people rely on individual examples of bad content to understand if a service is meeting its overall responsibilities. In reality, there will always be some harmful content, so it's important for society to agree on how to reduce that to a minimum -- and where the lines should be drawn between free expression and safety," said Zuckerberg.

Facebook would be working with the French government to work on a new approach for content regulation. The idea is to eventually work with the European Commission and other governments to create a framework for Europe in the next couple of years.

While agreeing that it could go against the core principles of many internet companies, Zuckerberg says that individual companies should not be handling issues related to free expression and public safety on their own and that it has to be a partnership between industry and the governments to find the right solutions together.

With inputs from Reuters

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