There's been a lot of discussion around whether companies, particularly platforms like Facebook and YouTube, should monitor and remove harmful content from their platforms. While some believe these companies should be held accountable for the content posted on their platforms, it can also be argued that it would be nearly impossible for any platform to monitor every post before it's published while maintaining the fluidity of communication that these platforms are meant to enable.
Today, Facebook, one of the companies that's been at the center of these discussions, published a new white paper titles Charting a Way Forward: Online Content Regulation. The paper aims to establish some guidelines for how regulation around online content needs to be created and what factors need to be taken into account. CEO Mark Zuckerberg had already called for internet regulation last year, but this paper includes more tangible guidelines for how this can be done.
The 22-page-long paper builds off of four key challenges - first, the different legal environments and speech norms around the world; second, the fact that technology and speech are dynamic and constantly changing; third, that enforcement of regulations will always be imperfect; and fourth, in what some might consider a way to exempt itself from responsibility, that companies are mere intermediaries and not speakers, and thus shouldn't be punishable for the content posted on its platforms.
The paper then focuses on four questions that Facebook believes underpin the discussion around online content regulation:
- How can content regulation best achieve the goal of reducing harmful speech while preserving free expression?
- How should regulation enhance the accountability of internet platforms?
- Should regulation require internet companies to meet certain performance targets?
- Should regulation define which “harmful content” should be prohibited on internet platforms?
For each of these questions, Facebook proposes potential legal requirements or incentives that governments should define for internet companies in order to promote an overall healthy online environment. The company then defines some principles to help build future regulations, including incentives for companies to regulate their platforms accordingly, the global nature of the internet, freedom of expression, and more.
As the discussion around this topic continues to develop, it remains to be seen if Facebook's guidelines will have a significant impact in the regulations that end up being implemented around the world. Nonetheless, it's interesting to see one of the more heavily targeted companies in this discussion - and one of the world's largest social networks - sharing its vision for such regulation.