Zuckerberg Meets With Senators Over 'Net Regs

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has reached out to Congress to talk about what action Congress could or should take to protect data and promote competition.

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Zuckerberg, who has been in the hotseat in Hill hearings over the social media giant's handling of user data and use by Russian election meddlers, has acknowledged new regs are needed.

That outreach is according to the office of Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), which said that at Facebook's request, the senator put together a dinner meeting in Washington for Zuckerberg and "a group of senators."

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According to Warner spokesperson Rachel Cohen, "the participants had a discussion touching on multiple issues, including the role and responsibility of social media platforms in protecting our democracy, and what steps Congress should take to defend our elections, protect consumer data, and encourage competition in the social media space.”

Warner, who is ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a speech this week that the status quo in internet governance doesn't cut it any more. Warner said that view might seem surprising from the "tech guy" in Washington--he is a former tech exec and concedes he once shared the consensus view that those technologies "and the companies that built them" were "largely positive forces--but that in the wake of abuses by actors foreign and domestic, he signaled, "now, we see how the misuse of technology threatens our democratic systems, our economy, and our national security."

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In an email to Multichannel News and other outlets, Cohen pointed out that the senator has introduced several bills to regulate social media platforms, including Facebook, as well as releases in a white paper on various approaches to the issue of internet governance.

Those bills include the Honest Ads Act, the DASHBOARD Act and the DETOUR Act.

Cohen also says there is another piece of legislation in the works--the senator plans to introduce it in the "coming weeks--which she describes as "bipartisan interoperability/portability legislation to encourage innovation, support competition, and actually give users more choices when it comes to social media."

In a Facebook post back in April, Zuckerberg said he believed we need new regulation in four areas: harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability,"

Facebook has been under intense scrutiny in Washington over the Cambridge Analytica data sharing fiasco--which led to the recent $5 billion fine from the Federal Trade Commission--and general angst about the size and power of social media and its exemption from liability (responsibility) for the content posted on its platforms.

Zuckerberg, who testified before Congress last fall, said he agrees with lawmakers that social media have too much power of speech. "I've come to believe that we shouldn't make so many important decisions about speech on our own," he said. That is why Facebook is creating an independent body that will review appeals of those content decisions.

But he also said the government could set baseline standards for prohibited speech "and require companies to build systems for keeping harmful content to a bare minimum."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.