Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg endured five hours of questions in the US Senate on Tuesday, at one point conceding what’s probably inevitable: tighter government oversight of social media in general and his firm in particular. “My position is not that there should be no regulation,” he said, trying to get in front of what appears to be a rising political tide of change. “I think the real question as the internet becomes more important in people’s lives is what is the right regulation.”
The finer points of how legislation might be written was not on the mind of Senator John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican, who told Zuckerberg “your user agreement sucks.” Lest there should be any doubt of where this might be headed, Kennedy advised that “I don’t want to vote to have to regulate Facebook, but by God I will. A lot of that depends on you.”
It’s unclear what a new era of government regulation of Facebook and the online industry might look like, but it would be surprising if Washington does nothing in the wake of private-data and fake-news scandals that have engulfed Zuckerberg’s firm in recent months. The tipping point was the recent revelation that Cambridge Analytica illegally harvested data from millions of Facebook users to influence elections.
The scandal has become a turning point for reconsidering the self-regulating aspect of social media businesses. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, was strikingly blunt, insisting that “Facebook is a virtual monopoly and monopolies need to be regulated.”
I expect the regulatory regime for a company like Facebook will be challenging and difficult. It could possibly take the creation of new laws and regulations to deal with this platform. But I do believe this: continued self-regulation is not the right answer when it comes to dealing with the abuses we have seen on Facebook.