What do we want? Regulation! When do we want it? Now! This was the request of Mark Zuckerberg in an op-ed in The Washington Post last week. Not what you would expect to hear from the world’s most popular social networking site. Nevertheless, the media titan has called for more laws to guard the use of social media platforms against those who wish to publish malicious content, compromise the integrity of elections and infringe upon user privacy.
Facebook is the first of the big tech giants to go on the offensive to make this happen, posting a new commitment to protect EU elections from interference and promising a searchable archive of all advertising on the platform. Zuckerberg has furthermore called for all tech companies to release a transparency report every quarter, along with their financials.
This could go some way to restoring the confidence that is currently on the decline in media, which according to our very own QT, is at an all time low of -38%. Crucially, the new common rules for adherence by social platforms, as Zuckerberg envisions them, are to be enforced by third parties: “Lawmakers often tell me we have too much power over speech, and frankly I agree.”
However, calls for tougher regulation of media outlets have not always gone smoothly. The Leveson Inquiry set up in 2011 after the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, failed to bring about a unified approach to the regulation of the Press. Only a small number of Press titles joined the ‘approved’ regulator, with all the major newspapers instead going on to form their own regulator (Ipso), which has no official government recognition (the Guardian and the Financial Times self-regulate).
However, is change on the horizon? Just today the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has proposed a independent watchdog that will write a ‘code of practice’ for tech companies. Whilst this is long overdue for many, how it will hold companies in Silicon Valley responsible remains to be seen. And where to start with this ‘code of practice’ is a complex enough task in itself. It’s not as simple as deactivating accounts – our laws need to be adaptable enough to apply to the virtual space of social media, so that the consequences are clear.
- QT: February 2019