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13 April 2018

Hancock Issues Warning of Future Regulation to Facebook

Culture Secretary Matt Hancock has issued a warning of future regulation to Facebook over data privacy, saying that social media platforms are “not above the law.”

The Guardian reported that Government sources said the Culture Secretary had held a “robust but constructive” meeting with Facebook but had warned Facebook the relationship between government and social media firms would have to change.

Afterwards, Mr Hancock said: “Social media companies are not above the law and will not be allowed to shirk their responsibilities to our citizens. We will do what is needed to ensure that people’s data is protected and don’t rule anything out – that includes further regulation in the future.”

In a leader commenting on Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg’s evidence to Congress this week, The Times said: "For years Facebook has denied being a publisher and thus shirked the responsibility for content shouldered by, for example, newspapers and television. This too may at last be changing. “When people ask us if we’re a media company,” Mr Zuckerberg said, “what I hear is do we have a responsibility for the content that people share on Facebook, and I believe the answer to that question is yes.”

"It is one thing to admit responsibility and another to act on it. Facebook, along with other tech companies, has tried many tactics to absolve itself from responsibility for the content it hosts. Its executives have protested that co-operating with law enforcement in democratic countries obliges it to respond to the demands of more tyrannical regimes in other markets. They have argued that giving users anything less than what they wish for would lead to an exodus to less responsible sites.

"And they have made an argument based on the sheer volume of content that they host: the site’s total annual usage equates to about 15 million years of screen time, which makes for a boggling amount of words, pictures and videos to police. All such protestations are best understood as a defence of the bottom line. If Facebook cannot control its own creation without vast expense, that is Facebook’s problem.

"No traditional publisher is allowed to merely shrug its shoulders when accused of plagiarism, or copyright theft, or facilitating hate, violence, self-harm, stalking, paedophilia or terrorism. Successes in combating online child pornography show that, when properly motivated, tech giants are well-placed to solve the problems they themselves have exacerbated. While there is a balance to be struck between the privacy of users and the transparency of social media platforms, it should not be the platforms’ choice where to strike it.

"It is no longer enough for technology companies to smirk behind algorithms and claim that there is nothing they can do. Where their inventions are ravaging the norms of law, culture and society, they must come up with solutions. If they will not, they must expect governments to tame them with the full force of the law. If that hits their vast profits, that, too, is their problem."