Facebook is ramping up its calls for government regulation of social media companies, which could give the company a leg up on its competitors.
Testifying at a March 25 House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg signaled his support for a number of legislative changes that would make social networking sites liable for illegal or illicit content published on their platforms. The proposed changes would increase the barrier to entry for new social media companies attempting to compete with Facebook by requiring them to build up units akin to Facebook's Security and Safety teams that police misinformation.
Facebook's push for regulation comes as social media companies face increased pressure from both sides of the aisle. Democrats have attacked Facebook as a monopoly that does not do enough to combat disinformation, while many Republicans feel it already overly censors users.
During the hearing, Zuckerberg endorsed legislation that would define "misinformation" and punish companies that allow ads containing misinformation on their sites. Zuckerberg also signaled his support for creating a federal agency to assess misinformation. Conservatives say current attempts to define and prevent "misinformation" are merely an excuse for companies that want to silence dissenting opinions.
Zuckerberg also called for a major rollback of Section 230 immunity, which protects social media companies from liability for content published by their users. Zuckerberg's proposal would strip companies of Section 230 protections unless they enacted formal policies for the removal of unlawful content.
Facebook already has such a policy and employs thousands of contractors to manually remove illegal or inappropriate content. The company also trumpeted its large Security and Safety teams in a new ad campaign that boasts "Facebook is not waiting for regulation." Smaller social media platforms likely would not have the resources to enact similar policies.
Facebook is the largest social media company in the world and is a major lobbyist on Capitol Hill. According to the Center For Responsive Politics, it spent almost $17 million on lobbying in 2019, making it one of the biggest lobbyists in Washington.
Monika Bickert, Facebook's vice president of content policy, has suggested social media platforms should limit the reach of "harmful" content, rather than ban it completely. Companies including Facebook have been criticized for this "shadowbanning," which is seen by many as another form of censorship.
Despite calling for laws that would require social media companies to explain their content policies to users, Facebook does not notify users when content has been "shadowbanned."
Other tech companies have suggested different approaches to handling misinformation. In the March 25 hearing, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey suggested that social media users, not social media companies or the government should have the power to regulate content.
Reached for comment, a Facebook spokesperson said, "Facebook supports thoughtful reform of Section 230 and stands ready to be a productive partner as Congress considers updating the rules of the internet."