The world has a message for Facebook: it's time to clean up your network.
MARK ZUCKERBERG IS the master of all he surveys. His social media businesses are worth over one trillion dollars and have over 2.5bn global users – not counting China where they won’t let him in. As well as Facebook he bought Instagram and WhatsApp, creating an effective monopoly of global social media.
He has retained a majority of Facebook’s voting shares and completely controls the company. He has even tried to control his staff – in a dispute with Apple he decreed one day that Facebook employees were not allowed to buy or use Apple iPhones.
His early motto was "move fast and break things" indicating a "Wild West" approach to authority. He has strenuously defended the position that his companies are not responsible for the content that they deliver. That they, just like the post office or phone system, just deliver the messages.
To everybody who isn’t Mark Zuckerberg, this position is obviously unsustainable. Lots of material, such as promoting terrorism or paedophilia, can’t be permitted in any civilised society. The problem remains in the grey areas where individual opinions can be interpreted as legitimate points of view, but can cause serious offence, such as the recent racist postings that were aimed at black players following the Euro championship.
Facebook insists that it tries very hard to block offensive or illegal posts, but its behaviour indicates that their heart really isn’t in it. Unless it gets them into financial or legal trouble that is.
If you post copyright material, such as music recording, you will find that Facebook will block it and warn you that, if you persist, you might be suspended for 30 days, protecting Facebook from having to pay substantial damages to rights owners.
If you post pro-Nazi or Holocaust-denial views on their German site, you will find that it very quickly disappears. This is because the German Government imposes very heavy fines for promoting or distributing pro-Nazi material. Facebook employs 1,200 moderators in Germany to ensure they don’t fall foul of these restrictions.
If you are a subscriber to a private Facebook group for naturists, seen only by its members, you will find that any image showing a female nipple is blocked, but a male nipple is fine.
It beggars belief that Facebook can quickly identify the difference between a male and female nipple, but that they can’t correctly identify emojis of bananas or apes as symptoms of racial abuse when sent in messages to leading black footballers.
The law has always been slow to catch up with technology developments but finally governments are beginning to wake up and tackle the problem.
A young academic, Lina Khan, published a paper in 2017 proposing radical changes in the USA’s competition laws to combat the perceived monopolies of Facebook, Google and Amazon.
In a stunning move, President Biden has just appointed her Chair of the Federal Trade Commission.
He is also set to appoint Jonathan Kanter a lawyer who has previously challenged anti-competitive practices in tech companies to be head of US justice department’s anti-trust division. The EU is proposing regulations giving Facebook one hour to remove offensive material or face fines, effectively extending German laws to the rest of the EU.
And the UK is said to be ready to appoint notorious Facebook critic, New Zealander John Edwards, as our next Information Commissioner. He is on record as calling Facebook “morally bankrupt pathological liars”.
In 2019, in the aftermath of the Christchurch mosque massacres, Edwards scalded Facebook for its lack of comment on the atrocity saying: "Your silence is an insult to our grief".
Looks like the ‘wild west’ days may be over. The sheriffs are being brought in to clean up the town.