Facebook's call for global internet regulation sparks debate

Mark Zuckerberg may be the head of Facebook. But he says the internet is not always a friendly place. The Facebook CEO wants sweeping new rules dealing with hateful and violent content, election integrity and privacy. Courtesy #DStv403

WASHINGTON - Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg's call for "globally harmonized" online regulation raises questions about how internet platforms can deal with concerns about misinformation and abusive content while remaining open to free speech.

Here are key questions about the latest proposal from Facebook:

What is Facebook seeking?

The leading social network wants a single set of rules on content to avoid running afoul of national requirements to remove "hate speech" or inappropriate content, kicking responsibility to a to-be-determined entity to avoid being accused of censorship.

Zuckerberg said in a weekend post that "a common global framework" rather than country-by-country regulation "will ensure that the internet does not get fractured, entrepreneurs can build products that serve everyone, and everyone gets the same protections."

The Facebook chief says that the US and other countries "should build on the protections" offered in Europe's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), but stopped short of offering specifics.

He did say any plan should not require data to be stored locally, "which would make it more vulnerable to unwarranted access."

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The latest proposals appear to go a step beyond Zuckerberg's call last year for a "supreme court" to make decisions on questionable content.

Analysts say Facebook desperately wants to avoid being the final arbiter for what is allowed or removed - which would put the platform in a difficult position each time there is controversy.

"Zuckerberg understands there is deep public concern about social media and digital platforms," said Darrell West, director of the Brookings Institution's Center for Technology Innovation.

"By calling for some global regulations, he is acknowledging that reality, but seeking to direct regulation in unobtrusive ways. He is hoping for mild reforms that don't disrupt the Facebook business model and endanger ad revenues."

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Adam Chiara, a professor of communication at the University of Hartford, said regulations may end up helping giants like Facebook which have the resources to comply.

"Other smaller tech companies may not have the means to adhere to strict regulation," Chiara said.

"So in a sense, strict regulation could, ironically, be good for Facebook now since they had years to build an empire with little oversight."

 How could a global system work? 

Internet regulations vary considerably by country, with what is considered hate speech in some countries is protected in the US and elsewhere.

Similarly, there are vast differences on how private user data is collected and used is different parts of the world, with GDPR rules among the strictest.