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Zuckerberg calls on EU to take lead in internet regulation

Image credit: REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

In a video conference hosted by the Centre on Regulation in Europe, the Facebook CEO called on the European Commission to take the lead in regulating online platforms and resist more repressive models of online regulation.

The EU’s data protection regulations have proved influential, and are often cited as an example of the 'Brussels effect': the adoption of EU standards worldwide through market forces. Now, the EU is amid discussions about the regulation of digital platforms, including political advertising, harmful content, and the possibility of a 'digital levy' targeting US internet giants.

The European Commission is expected to present the Digital Services Act later this year.

In conversation with the European Commissioner for Internal Market, Thierry Breton, Zuckerberg said that he would welcome an influential framework for the regulation of online platforms presented by the EU.

“What I worry about is right now, I think, that there are emerging two very different frameworks that are underpinned by very different sets of values,” Zuckerberg said. “Just to be kind of blunt about it, I think that there is a model that is coming out of countries like China, that tend to have very different values than Western countries that are more democratic.”

He said that the Chinese model of online governance – which lays down the strictest restrictions on internet freedom in the world, according to Freedom House – could prove attractive to some governments still on the fence about how they should proceed with regulation.

“It might be attractive in different ways to force everyone to localise data and make it so that, basically, you don’t have to respect human rights quite as much, in how the society gets run. I just think that that’s really dangerous and I worry about that kind of model spreading to other countries. The best antidote to that is having a clear regulatory framework that comes out of Western democratic countries.”

He added that EU regulations often become worldwide standards, citing GDPR.

Breton spoke about some of the measures expected in the Digital Services Act, including the extreme market dominance of certain digital platforms, which wield “gatekeeping” power over SMEs by, for example, withholding valuable data.

Breton and Zuckerberg also discussed individual data ownership – which Zuckerberg argued was a complex issue with some rules needing clarification – and the spread of misinformation and disinformation online. Breton told Zuckerberg that Facebook and other digital giants could be subjected to tough new rules if they continued to allow harmful material to proliferate on their platforms.

“When you are the CEO, at the end of the day, you are the only one to be responsible, no one else,” Breton said. Zuckerberg reiterated his support for government regulation of harmful content, stating that it is not for companies to make these calls.

Facebook recently announced the appointment of the first members of its independent 'Oversight Board', which will act like a supreme court, having the final word on what content is permitted on Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram.

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