It’s hard sometimes to remember the exact moment when Facebook went kerplunk last year.

Was it when Mark Zuckerberg announced the big newsfeed changes? Was it the whole Cambridge Analytica thing?

Election interference and privacy scandals? Was it after Zuckerberg’s congressional testimony? 

It looks like Zuckerberg has been asking himself that question too, and has now spent a full trying to figure out how to fix it. We got our first look at his ideas early last month, when he posted a 3,000-word essay saying he wanted to shift Facebook toward privacy, security and  small group communication.

But now, in an op-ed in The Washington Post over the weekend (published at the same time in the Irish Independent newspaper), Zuckerberg called for something bigger, to affect the entire technology industry.

Specifically, he called for government intervention and regulation of technology companies, in four areas:

  • Harmful content. “Internet companies should be accountable for enforcing standards on harmful content. … Regulation could set baselines for what’s prohibited and require companies to build systems for keeping harmful content to a bare minimum.”
  • Protecting elections. “Our systems would be more effective if regulation created common standards for verifying political actors.”
  • Privacy and data protection. “People around the world have called for comprehensive privacy regulation in line with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, and I agree.”
  • Data portability. “True data portability … requires clear rules about who’s responsible for protecting information when it moves between services.”

The world is clearly moving toward greater regulation of technology and social media companies anyway, so it’s savvy for Zuckerberg to call for it explicitly. Better to be seen as a cooperative industry leader and an advocate than to fight a doomed battle against the tide. 

But it’s also striking just how radical a change this is, and how different Facebook and other social media might have been a few years ago, if some of these kinds of regulations were in effect. 

It’s also a reminder of just how quickly we’ve moved, and how young the industry really is. Zuckerberg really was one of its creators, based at first on an application he built in a dorm room at age 19. 

Now, asking for government regulation of his own industry might be the only way to stave off public revolt and calls for big technology companies to be broken up on antitrust grounds. The remaining question: Is it too little, too late?

Here’s what else I’m reading today:

Published on: Apr 1, 2019
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