By Carlo Versano
In the midst of the deepening Brexit crisis, UK lawmakers found the time to stop bickering and come together this week to outline a sweeping proposal that would require social media firms to more closely monitor the content proliferating on their platforms ー or face big fines. It was a sign that there's a growing consensus around the world that the question of how the big tech companies will be regulation is a matter of when and how, not if.
"The era of self-regulation for big tech companies is over," said Jim Anderson, CEO of SocialFlow, a social-media optimization platform.
Just how to regulate companies like Facebook and Google, which are based in the U.S. but span the globe and don't consider themselves publishers of content and thus not bound by journalistic standards, is an increasingly fraught debate. That debate has gained even more urgency in the aftermath of the New Zealand mosque attacks, which were live-streamed on Facebook only to then spread like a virus on platforms like YouTube before moderators could keep up. Facebook banned white nationalist content in the wake of that attack.
Anderson said the issue is one of willpower over capability. Facebook and Google can do a better job moderating content through a combination of human editors and artificial intelligence, but they haven't figured out how yet, he said.
The issues are thorny and test the limits of free speech in many countries, including the U.S. While videos of mass shootings are cut-and-dry, other content is less so. Anderson said: "At what point does nationalism become supremacy? And where do you draw the line?"
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has clearly seen the writing on the wall, Anderson said, and may actually welcome it. Zuckerberg wrote a recent op-ed even calling for some government oversight of social media. But in order for regulation to work, companies like Facebook must also change their models for how they moderate their platforms. The "call-center model," whereby the job of moderation is outsourced to thousands of third-party contractors does not do enough, according to Anderson.
"I think they can do better," he said.
The 100-page white paper released by the UK government is only a start. It will likely take at least a year for it to become law ー and that's not even considering the wrench that Brexit throws into the gears, Anderson said.
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