After the news of Facebook data sharing by Cambridge Analytica broke, it raised a lot of questions about the social network and its use of personal information. Because the site holds so much personal data, the issue of whether to regulate Facebook affects a vast number of people. But it also brings up questions of ethics, privacy, and how much regulation infringes on people’s rights. Let’s debunk some of the questions surrounding the issue.
True or false: Even Facebook’s creator supports regulation.
True. Zuckerberg thinks Facebook does need some oversight
During the Senate hearing on the data breach, Sen. Lindsey Graham questioned creator Mark Zuckerberg about whether Facebook is a monopoly. He asked, “Do you embrace regulation?” “I think the real question, as the internet becomes more important in people’s lives,” Zuckerberg replied, “is what’s the right regulation?”
True or false: Facebook needs more regulation than other industries.
False. It does need more transparency
“I’m not sure we shouldn’t be regulated,” Zuckerberg told CNN. He added that he would love to see more transparency, similar to how regulation works for other media. “If you look at how much regulation there is around advertising in TV and print, it’s just not clear why there should be less on the internet. You should have the same level of transparency required,” Zuckerberg explained.
True or false: Some media regulations already exist.
True. This agency already requires some disclosures
The Federal Election Commission also imposes some rules for media regarding who sponsors campaign advertisements. Additionally, the Honest Ads Act would require social media companies with more than 50 million monthly users to disclose information about political advertisers who spend more than $500 on ads. The law would solve some Facebook issues, but it also creates others.
True or false: Some aspects of that proposed law seem controversial.
True. Parts of the act would contradict this standard
If Facebook becomes officially liable for disclosure of third-party ads on its platform, the regulation would contradict a section of the 1996 Communications Decency Act. This rule says publishers and ISPs do not hold liability for how users behave on their sites. While some recent legal challenges have threatened to undermine it, the law still holds firm for how the internet works.
True or false: Lawmakers have a solid handle on what to do.
False. Congress needs a better understanding of the issue
One of the issues facing lawmakers rests in their ignorance of how the internet works. Many of the options for regulating Facebook come as new territory for lawmakers. Most of them do not understand the technical aspects of the social medium well enough to regulate it. Acting without deep knowledge of the platform can result in unduly restricting online freedoms.
For example, Congress recently passed the controversial FOSTA/SESTA bill package. That includes sweeping, high-level reform, that could infringe on internet freedom and infrastructure.
True or false: Regulation deals with a matter of ethics.
True. Regulatory processes need to consider two angles
Some journalists have argued in favor of a system of regulations that encourage companies to create tools responsibly while creating accountability. Those processes should deal with not only the ethics of data mining and how fully users consent to it. They should also consider how ethically companies aggregate and apply that data, to mitigate and minimize harm.
True or false: We should address regulation on a person-to-person basis.
False. Regulation can address general internet privacy
Internet privacy in general needs regulation, for starters. In Europe, recent passage of sweeping data privacy reform has gotten a head start on the issue. Facebook subsequently made numerous changes to comply with European law, and further pledged to make those changes available to users worldwide.
True or false: Facebook acts like Google, Amazon, and Apple.
True. We can apply monopoly rules to the tech giant
Because of Facebook’s size and its widespread application, lawmakers can treat Facebook as a monopoly. As such, they can also regulate it using existing antitrust law. Facebook has arguably monopolized political and cultural discourse, because of how much it influences how people access information online. Antitrust law could also apply the consumer welfare standard to how it operates. That standard determines whether the presence of monopolies hurts consumers.
True or false: We know exactly how to handle Internet regulation.
False. A lot will come after trial and error
In general, popular opinion indicates that Facebook needs to do better than continue to police itself. We might end up with restrictive policies first which would then have to get rolled back. That said, it will eventually mean that giants like Facebook no longer run wild with personal data. Ultimately, more regulation will also result in better accountability to Facebook’s users.
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