The EU immediately rejected Facebook’s latest vision of how online content should be regulated, warning that the social media company will have to assume more responsibility for illegal material on its platforms.
Mark Zuckerberg toured Brussels on Monday, meeting EU officials and journalists and publishing a white paper called “Charting the Way Forward: Online Content Regulation”.
The 13-page document suggested that there should be global, rather than national, policies on what is permissible and that internet companies should not face any liability for content on their platforms or free speech would be limited.
Instead, Facebook said internet companies should be held to account for whether they have standards and systems in place to combat illegal content. It also argued that companies should be given flexibility to allow them to experiment with content moderation technology.
Thierry Breton, the French commissioner overseeing the bloc’s data strategy, rejected the plans after meeting Mr Zuckerberg, saying Facebook was being slow in coming forward with ideas on how to remove illegal content and warning that the EU was preparing to act.
“It’s not enough. It’s too slow, it’s too low in terms of responsibility and regulation,” said Mr Breton, adding that Facebook had not mentioned its market dominance.
The European Commission would examine the company’s work in using artificial intelligence to detect dangerous content and pull it off the web, and take this into consideration, he said.
But he added: “If we see that it’s not what we need regarding our own standards, we will have to regulate and put this in our [Digital Services Act]” — a piece of legislation due from the commission later this year.
Mr Zuckerberg also met other senior EU officials, including Vera Jourova, the commission’s vice-president in charge of transparency and values. She wants the “black box” algorithms that power parts of the internet to be open to “audit” by researchers and other third parties so the public has a better idea of what determines what it watches and consumes via the web.
“I want companies like Facebook to make an extra effort to help defend our democracies,” she said after the meeting. “This will require looking at transparency and oversight of algorithms to avoid decisions being taken in black boxes and in the ways they moderate content . . . Facebook cannot push away all the responsibility.”
Tech companies are bracing themselves for an overhaul of internet rules later this year as Brussels regulators clarify rules set up two decades ago on illegal content, disinformation and advertising transparency.
Facebook is also facing potential antitrust investigations in Brussels. In December the competition unit of the European Commission sent detailed questionnaires to Facebook rivals in an attempt to help it understand how the social network collects data potentially to the detriment of competitors. So far, Facebook is the only member of the big four US internet companies to have escaped a formal inquiry.
Regulators are also trying to understand the “value and importance” of the data that rivals share with Facebook and why it collects such information.
Separately, competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager is examining Facebook Marketplace, the social platform’s listings service. The commission wants to know whether the service is treating online classifieds in an unfair way, following complaints from players in the sector.