The Washington Post recently ran an op-ed by Mark Zuckerberg in which the Facebook founder acknowledged the "immense responsibilties" held by his platform and called for a "more active role for governments and regulators" in helping companies like his own to keep people safe.
The piece comes at a time when Facebook finds itself under increasing pressure to remove and more efficiently monitor harmful content, fake accounts and fake stories, particularly any that concern major elections such as those about to start in India. In the wake of the Christchurch attack in New Zealand on March 15, which was streamed live via Facebook and viewed around 4,000 times, according to the company, before Facebook took it down, the call from both people and advertisers for Facebook to take more responsibility for the content on its platform has only got louder.
Campaign's global technology editor, Omar Oakes, has decoded Zuckerberg's article in some depth but here, we share the reactions of three Asia-based figures in the advertising and marketing industry.
"[It's] a way of passing on responsibility to someone else"
James Hacking, SVP, BlueCurrent Group:
I think it’s obvious that Zuckerberg’s latest comments are prompted by Facebook’s current run of bad press regarding election-swaying and the spreading of harmful content.
His comments to me seem to be very broad-brush and a way of passing on responsibility to someone else which, although he mentions governments and regulators, is ultimately the ‘user’.
Zuckerberg knows very well that it will be hard to get a common global framework or wider regulation passed. He knows too that most people on Facebook do not know how their data is stored and used, or even why they see certain types of content, as long as they don’t have to pay.
Let’s be honest, the average Facebook user is unlikely to review the company’s ‘transparency reports’ nor spend time reviewing its ‘searchable archive’ any more than the average netizen really knows what changes the GDPR has made to protect them.
I don’t think Zuckerberg’s comments will impact him personally, or even Facebook, as the company is still so important for so many people. I also think that, sadly, ‘bad behaviour’ will always find a way to exist online.
His plea, if anything, should serve as yet another warning for society at large to take more responsibility for its actions and for people to stop blaming anyone but themselves.
"The government regulation will likely come soon, but it won’t be global, but national"
Dr Marko Skoric, associate professor, Department of Media and Communication, City University of Hong Kong:
Mark Zuckerberg’s call for a greater role of governments and regulators in policing social media platforms and communities is not surprising, as it comes after a prolonged period of bad publicity plaguing the company in spite of its strong financial performance. Still, I feel it is too little, too late, and it comes off as being largely reactive rather than proactive.
In my opinion, they key issue to be addressed is the dominant business model of Facebook, which relies heavily on display advertising, calibrated using the extensive data extraction capacities of the platform. Today, digital advertising is completely dominated by a global duopoly of Facebook and Google (with some exceptions), and largely based on an updated interruption-based model of traditional display advertising. In other words, social marketing is not where social media companies make money yet, if they ever will.
It is quite puzzling that the companies claiming to offer valuable networking services cannot leverage more of other monetization strategies, such as subscription and transaction. I think that Netflix, Apple, and WeChat provide some glimpses into what a near-future would be like for dominant social media companies—leveraging on a more diverse set of revenue streams.
The government regulation will likely come soon, but it won’t be global, but national, as it has been the case in the past (or supranational like the EU’s GDPR). Facebook will have to decide on the key values that the company stands for and comply with the local laws in every jurisdiction it operates, like every other company that delivers media content. It is indeed hard to envision a future in which countries such as New Zealand and Saudi Arabia agree on a common set of principles regarding the freedom of expression or hate speech on social media platforms. Therefore, enforcing local laws and regulations and policing content will dramatically increase the complexity of doing business and the operating costs, making the key business model less attractive and potentially spurring innovation.
The social media party is over and the clean up will take a lot of time and effort.
"Many of the innovative ideas and technologies Facebook developed did not, and still do not have clear laws around them"
Paul Vivant, CEO, Digimind:
Strategically, Mark Zuckerberg's move to call for more government involvement in internet regulations appeared to be a good one for Facebook because it allowed him to demonstrate his company’s commitment to making the internet a safer place for all users, given the huge role it plays in our daily lives.
At a time where trust in Facebook is being questioned more and more, due to instances such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the social media giants have to prevent consumer trust from declining further.
There’s no doubt that Facebook pioneered a lot of what social media marketing is today. However many of the innovative ideas and technologies Facebook developed did not, and still do not, have clear laws around them. This has placed the tech giant in hot water in multiple instances, including facing a potential $1.63 billion fine for a GDPR breach in November 2018.
In this opinion piece, Zuckerberg acknowledges the responsibility his company and others like it bear, and invites governments and policymakers to lay out the ground rules to hold companies accountable for their actions, and hopefully keep Facebook out of expensive lawsuits in the future too. By starting this conversation and offering suggestions, this might warrant policymakers to involve him in discussions when drafting regulation laws – also in part due to his extensive knowledge in this sector.
Digimind's data collected public posts about Zuckerberg’s opinion piece on social media and the internet globally from 30 March to 1 April 2019. It shows 23,062 mentions, which garnered 76,895 interactions (comments, likes or shares) since the article was released on 30 March.
Key topics netizens focused on were data protection, political interference and the fact that Mark Zuckerberg was the person who was making this statement. Netizens globally were divided in opinion, with some of them applauding this call for governments to participate in internet regulation, and others doubting Facebook’s ulterior motives behind this request.
- Allowing Facebook to be involved in setting the rules, as many felt they had enough power
- How regulations such as the ones proposed would have a stronger negative impact on smaller start-ups as opposed to tech giants, who have deeper pockets
- The impact this would have on freedom of speech, with some comparing government internet regulations to China’s Great Firewall
One of the main challenges that has prevented Facebook and Google from successfully halting the spread of harmful content over the last year has been the ability to correctly determine the safety and sensitivity of content.
For example, after evidence showed the 2016 presidential election in the United States was swayed by Facebook ads purchased by a foreign actor, Facebook quickly built systems to monitor and control the types of ads allowed on its network. However the system was unable to correctly determine what was and was not a political advertisement, causing numerous publishers to run into issues promoting their political stories as they were being classified as political ads.
With hundreds of millions of posts being shared online in a minute across these tech giant’s platforms, it’s a seemingly impossible challenge for them to sift through the posts individually to identify what is appropriate and what isn’t. Furthermore with different channels and platforms having different content policies, it is often not possible to control content once it has been shared outside your web domain.
Social media monitoring tools, especially those with in-built AI capabilities, can help companies sift through terabytes of data quickly and efficiently to highlight any crises that may be waiting to go viral, and to keep track of where any harmful content is being spread.