It has been a tumultuous few weeks for Facebook, and some would say quite rightly so. The company is a notorious harvester of personal information but last month’s Cambridge Analytica scandal really brought things to a head.
With Facebook co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg in the midst of a PR nightmare, last Tuesday the entrepreneur appeared before the Senate. A day later he faced a grilling from lawmakers, answering questions concerning the social networking giant’s problems with user privacy and how it responds to breaches.
What practical measures Zuckerberg and his team will take to calm the storm are yet to unfold but the opportunity to broaden the attack on both Facebook and others in the user-generated content field is now being seized upon. Yes, privacy is the number one controversy at the moment but Facebook and others of its ilk need to step up and take responsibility for everything posted on their platforms.
That’s the argument presented by the American Federation of Musicians, the Content Creators Coalition, CreativeFuture, and the Independent Film & Television Alliance, who together represent more than 650 entertainment industry companies and 240,000 members. CreativeFuture alone represents more than 500 companies, including all the big Hollywood studios and major players in the music industry.
In letters sent to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary; the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation; and the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the coalitions urge Congress to not only ensure that Facebook gets its house in order, but that Google, Twitter, and similar platforms do so too.
The letters begin with calls to protect user data and tackle the menace of fake news but given the nature of the coalitions and their entertainment industry members, it’s no surprise to see where this is heading.
“In last week’s hearing, Mr. Zuckerberg stressed several times that Facebook must ‘take a broader view of our responsibility,’ acknowledging that it is ‘responsible for the content’ that appears on its service and must ‘take a more active view in policing the ecosystem’ it created,” the letter reads.
“While most content on Facebook is not produced by Facebook, they are the publisher and distributor of immense amounts of content to billions around the world. It is worth noting that a lot of that content is posted without the consent of the people who created it, including those in the creative industries we represent.”
The letter recalls Zuckerberg as characterizing Facebook’s failure to take a broader view of its responsibilities as a “big mistake” while noting he’s also promised change.
However, the entertainment groups contend that the way the company has conducted itself – and the manner in which many Silicon Valley companies conduct themselves – is supported and encouraged by safe harbors and legal immunities that absolve internet platforms of accountability.
“We agree that change needs to happen – but we must ask ourselves whether we can expect to see real change as long as these companies are allowed to continue to operate in a policy framework that prioritizes the growth of the internet over accountability and protects those that fail to act responsibly. We believe this question must be at the center of any action Congress takes in response to the recent failures,” the groups write.
But while the Facebook fiasco has provided the opportunity for criticism, CreativeFuture and its colleagues see the problem from a much broader perspective. They suck in companies like Google, which is also criticized for shirking its responsibilities, largely because the law doesn’t compel it to act any differently.
“Google, another major global platform that has long resisted meaningful accountability, also needs to step forward and endorse the broader view of responsibility expressed by Mr. Zuckerberg – as do many others,” they continue.
“The real problem is not Facebook, or Mark Zuckerberg, regardless of how sincerely he seeks to own the ‘mistakes’ that led to the hearing last week. The problem is endemic in a system that applies a different set of rules to the internet and fails to impose ordinary norms of accountability on businesses that are built around monetizing other people’s personal information and content.”
Noting that Congress has encouraged technology companies to prosper by using a “light hand” for the past several decades, the groups say their level of success now calls for a fresh approach and a heavier touch.
“Facebook and Google are grown-ups – and it is time they behaved that way. If they will not act, then it is up to you and your colleagues in the House to take action and not let these platforms’ abuses continue to pile up,” they conclude.
But with all that said, there is an interesting conflict that develops when presenting the solution to piracy in the context of a user privacy fiasco.
In the EU, many of the companies involved in the coalitions above are calling for pre-emptive filters to prevent allegedly infringing content being uploaded to Facebook and YouTube. That means that all user uploads to such platforms will have to be opened and scanned to see what they contain before they’re allowed online.