France welcomed Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg on Friday with a threat of sweeping new regulation.
With Facebook under fire on multiple fronts, Zuckerberg is in Paris to show that his social media giant is working hard to limit violent extremism and hate speech shared online.
But a group of French regulators and experts who spent weeks inside Facebook facilities in Paris, Dublin and Barcelona say the company isn’t working hard enough.
Just before Zuckerberg met French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, the 10 officials released a report calling for laws allowing the government to investigate and fine social networks that don’t take responsibility for the content that makes them money.
The French government wants the legislation to serve as a model for Europe-wide management of social networks. Several countries have introduced similar legislation, some tougher than what France is proposing.
To an average user, it seems like the problem is intractable. Mass shootings are live-streamed, and online mobs are spreading rumors that lead to deadly violence. Facebook is even inadvertently creating celebratory videos using extremist content and auto-generating business pages for the likes of the Islamic State group and al-Qaeda.
The company says it is working on solutions, and the French regulators praised Facebook for hiring more people and using artificial intelligence to track and crack down on dangerous content.
But they said Facebook didn’t provide the French officials enough information about its algorithms to judge whether they were working, and that a “lack of transparency … justifies an intervention of public authorities.”
The regulators recommended legally requiring a “duty of care” for big social networks, meaning they should moderate hate speech published on their platforms. They insist that any law should respect freedom of expression, but did not explain how Facebook should balance those responsibilities in practice.
After meeting Macron, Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post that he welcomed governments taking a more active role in drawing up regulations for the internet. He made similar remarks earlier this year but has been vague on what kind of regulation he favours.
Facebook faces “nuanced decisions” involving content that is harmful but not illegal and the French recommendations, which set guidelines for what’s considered harmful, “would create a more consistent approach across the tech industry and ensure companies are held accountable for enforcing standards against this content,” Zuckerberg said.
The regulators acknowledged that their research didn’t address violent content shared on private chat groups or encrypted apps, or on groups like 4chan or 8chan, where criminals and extremists and those concerned about privacy increasingly turn to communicate.
Facebook said Zuckerberg is in France as part of meetings around Europe to discuss future regulation of the internet. Facebook agreed to embed the French regulators as an effort to jointly develop proposals to fight online hate content.
Zuckerberg’s visit comes notably amid concern about hate speech and disinformation around this month’s European Parliament elections.
Next week, the leaders of France and New Zealand will meet tech leaders in Paris for a summit seeking to ban acts of violent extremism and terrorism from being shown online.
Facebook has faced challenges over privacy and security lapses and accusations of endangering democracy — and it came under criticism this week from its own co-founder.
Chris Hughes said in a New York Times opinion piece Thursday that it’s time to break up Facebook. He said Zuckerberg has turned Facebook into an innovation-suffocating monopoly and lamented the company’s “slow response to Russian agents, violent rhetoric and fake news.”