Facebook Fuel for India 2020: The most effective approach of regulation is not to 'micro-manage' content but accountability, transparency

Facebook Vice-President for Global Affairs and Communications Nick Clegg says policymakers should seek to introduce new guidelines and guardrails in the way in which the internet operates.

The most effective approach of regulation is not the one that seeks to "micro manage" every content online but rather the one that holds companies accountable and insists on a high level of transparency of systems and policies, Facebook Vice-President for Global Affairs and Communications Nick Clegg said at the Facebook Fuel for India 2020 event. Clegg also said that the digital industry is still young and has had a profound impact on the way in which one works and interacts.

He said it is right that rule makers and democratically elected rule-makers should seek to introduce new guidelines and guardrails in the way in which the internet operates.

"What I observe is that the most effective and intelligent approach to regulation is one that doesn't seek to try and micromanage every post and every line of content online... but instead to hold companies like Facebook accountable, and insist on a high level of transparency for the systems and the policies that they have in place," he added.

Further, he said regulations that do not "hinder the way in which the international economy now relies on international data flows" would be a "sensible overall approach".

Representational Image. Reuters

Representational Image. Reuters

Currently, digital platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google are categorised as intermediaries and regulated by the IT Act, 2000 that defines their role to be limited to processing, storing and transmitting data of third party users.

The Indian government is working on amending the IT rules for intermediaries to make them more responsive and accountable.

The government is also crafting data protection law to ensure privacy, safety and security of user data. These include provisions around the handling of data of adults and minors, storage within the Indian borders and penalties for non-compliance.

Facebook and WhatsApp have drawn flak in India over issues like handling of hate speech and misinformation on these platforms.

(Also read: We remain committed to being an open, neutral and non-partisan platform in India: Facebook India VP Ajit Mohan)

Clegg noted that the company is "very responsive" to law enforcement requests in India or elsewhere for cooperation and that it disables a huge number of accounts and groups on Facebook and Instagram for nefarious behaviour

However, WhatsApp is a private, intimate messaging system that is quite different from the public or semi-public experience of Instagram and Facebook as it is end-to-end encrypted, he said

"What we say to policymakers in India and elsewhere is because we can't see the content that doesn't mean that we cannot use signals that we do pick up, what is called metadata. We can use metadata to pick up signals so that we can go after people on an encrypted messaging system," Clegg said

He added that about two million WhatsApp accounts are removed every month, especially when they are used for bulk broadcast of messages, which is not the purpose of the app

"We will continue to explain to policy makers as best as we can, that we think that millions and billions of people around the world, expect the privacy of an intimate end-to-end encrypted messaging service, even as we continue to cooperate with them in other ways," he emphasised

Asked if it would make sense to have India-specific community guidelines, Clegg said it is a complex issue

"The complex thing about all this is that Facebook as a company has been put under tremendous political pressure, whether its in India or elsewhere, by people who have different views and often conflicting views about what shouldn't and shouldn't be circulating freely on the internet, even though it is legal,? he said

Clegg said given that Facebook is a global company, it has community standards that it applies evenly and consistently

"It doesn't mean that there aren't national legislative requirements and other exceptional requirements that we don't respond to," he said

He cited the example of Germany where it is illegal to say certain things about the Holocaust, which was not the case in other countries, and so Facebook geo-blocked that content in Germany

"There is adaptability... they must be for specific circumstances," he said.

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