Tech industry needs tighter regulation admits Facebook executive

The tech industry “needs regulation” because it should not be left to make the rules on issues including harmful online content on its own, a Facebook executive has said.

Monika Bickert, Facebook’s vice president of content policy, believes that “government regulation can establish standards all companies should meet”.

Her comments come as tech giants and some of their staunchest critics head to Parliament this week to talk about new rules to deal with harmful content online.

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries has said that online hate has “poisoned public life” and the Government had been spurred to re-examine its upcoming Online Safety Bill in the light of the death of MP Sir David Amess in his constituency last week.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Ms Bickert stated: “While there will no doubt be differing views, we should all agree on one thing: the tech industry needs regulation.

“At Facebook we’ve advocated for democratic governments to set new rules for the internet on areas like harmful content, privacy, data, and elections, because we believe that businesses like ours should not be making these decisions on our own.

“The UK is one of the countries leading the way with wide-ranging proposals on everything from hate speech to child safety and, while we won’t agree with all the details, we’re pleased the Online Safety Bill is moving forward. “

Ms Dorries has said that Sir David’s death may not have been stopped by a crackdown on online abuse, but it had highlighted the threats faced by people in the public eye.

Calls have been made for social media companies to hand over the data more quickly and rapidly remove the content themselves. The Bill should also force platforms to stop amplifying hateful content via their algorithms.

Ms Bickert wrote in the newspaper that “once Parliament passes the Online Safety Bill, Ofcom will ensure all tech companies are held to account”.

tech industry needs tighter regulation admits facebook executive
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She suggests that “companies should also be judged on how their rules are enforced”.

Facebook has been publishing figures on how it deals with harmful content, including how much of it is seen and taken down, for the past three years. The firm is also independently audited.

Ms Bickert wrote: “I spent more than a decade as a criminal prosecutor in the US before joining Facebook, and for the past nine years I’ve helped our company develop its rules on what is and isn’t allowed on our platforms.

“These policies seek to protect people from harm while also protecting freedom of expression.

“Our team includes former prosecutors, law enforcement officers, counter-terrorism specialists, teachers and child safety advocates, and we work with hundreds of independent experts around the world to help us get the balance right.

“While people often disagree about exactly where to draw the line, government regulation can establish standards all companies should meet.”

She said that Facebook has a commercial incentive to remove harmful content from its sites because “people don’t want to see it when they use our apps and advertisers don’t want their ads next to it”.

The amount of hate speech seen on Facebook is around five views per every 10,000, as detection of it has improved.

Ms Bickert stated: “Of the hate speech we removed, we found 97% before anyone reported it to us – up from just 23% a few years ago.

“While we have further to go, the enforcement reports show that we are making progress.”

Additional reporting by Press Association

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